Whitman, 1841

Rick Barot

I don’t know if he did or did not touch the boy.

But that boy told a brother or a father or a friend,

who told someone in a tavern, or told someone

about it while the men hauled in the nets of fish

from the Sound. Or maybe it was told to someone

on the street, a group of men talking outside

the village schoolhouse, where he was the teacher.

What was whispered about him brought everyone

to church that Sunday, where the preacher roared

his name and the pews cleared out to find him.

He was twenty-one, thought of himself as an exile.

He was boarding with the boy and his family.

The boy was a boy in that schoolroom he hated.

Not finding him in the first house, they found him

in another and dragged him from under the bed

where he had been hiding. He was led outside.

And they took the tar they used for their boats,

and they broke some pillows for their feathers,

and the biography talks about those winter months

when there was not a trace of him, until the trail

of letters, articles, stories, and poems started

up again, showing he was back in the big city.

He was done with teaching. That was one part

of himself completed, though the self would never

be final, the way his one book of poems would

never stop taking everything into itself. The look

of the streets and the buildings. The look of men

and women. The names of ferry boats and trains.

The name of the village, which was Southold.

The name of the preacher, which was Smith.

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