Kim Roberts
Fowler And Welles’ Phrenological Cabinet

The Apparition

Alan Botsford Saitoh
Walt Whitman

Phil Dansdill
Walt's Brain

Zoe Forney
How I Manage

Turn of the Year


Fowler And Welles’ Phrenological Cabinet

Walt Whitman made regular visits.
        He loved to touch the white porcelain head,
marked off in sections: Appetite, Grief,
Acquisitiveness. Like a butcher’s chart

mapping the choicest meats.
        Whitman knew the body’s limits,
and how the mind, a grid
of memory and fear, narrows the range

even further. He hated limits,
        prudence, high manners,
but he loved a good system
and wanted to learn this one’s

steady answers. Why wouldn’t
        what’s inside show up on the skin?
The bumps of the head,
small ones like hiccups,

large ones that span three or four
        categories, elongated heads, ones
that come to a point. His categories
would need new names:

Voluptuousness wears an open collar,
        Indolence takes the shape
of a cardboard butterfly perched
on his finger. Adhesiveness wants a walk

on the dark docks, a ferry ride across a river.
        And Sublimity roars like a leaf.
His home in Camden,
where I touch his rubber galoshes,

once overflowed with stacks of paper,
        a chaos, a fire hazard.
He wouldn’t let the hired woman touch it.
Whitman claimed an internal logic

even to Disorder; he loved
        a good system. In the prison
across the street from his house, men line the windows.
Women on the sidewalk dance, arms above their heads,

hold a pose like Cleopatra, then change.
        I thought at first: performance art?
Then realized they were spelling
with their bodies, forming the vowels

and the consonants in the air.
        The body’s news comes slowly.
Whitman knew about longing,
he nursed dying Civil War soldiers,

knew the stink of rotting flesh,
        of pus staining a bandage yellow,
the angel face we wear when we’re asleep.
He was large in Sympathy.

He knew something of fate
        and its strange journey through the grey
thickets of Infelicity and Melancholia,
the temperaments that form in the womb.

Kim Roberts



The Apparition

Walt Whitman is popping up everywhere.
He came to Barbara in a dream

and drew her out of her classroom,
he was clean-shaven and vulnerable,

like a boy, and he taught her
everything to know about climbing trees.

He came to Lisa in a vision,
a flash of angelic light

atop a bridge; he told her,
open yourself to you mystical nature,

be not afraid of the part of you
inexplicable and unexplained.

To me he comes as Gemini,
duality that seeks

its own reconciliation.
Divided and paradoxical,

using his book to knit together
one life, one accord

from two dissonant halves,
Walt steps down from my bookshelves.

I am reading now of Castor and Pollux,
sons of Leda, twins, although—

biology be damned—
sired of two fathers.

When one twin is in heaven,
the other is on earth. Then they switch.

Each is always wondering
if he is only half a man,

and only half good enough.
Doubt is part of the doubleness.

But that is Walt’s gift:
the striving for wholeness

on every page. That’s his lesson.
And who knows

where he will next appear,
or in what form.

Kim Roberts



Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman walks through every door:
        He enters and departs, arrives
                By the same light
Ringing the summit
        As the far shore.
For where he steps
                In a leaf’s wake,
The leaf is once more…

Now, O now America, let love, the poor ragpicker,
Come in.
Try on his old raiments like new.

Alan Botsford Saitoh



How I Manage

What is right for you is not right for me.
I translate you. I name you. I pity your sleep
in an empty eye, no shelter, no patience, no time.
I stay alert, as if our love were swordplay
and I could kill you, if I tried. Instead,
I say and do the things that are too hard for you.
I dance, make you look good,
and then I leave backwards
as if marking a trail
to ease your going.
Your time shortens
more quickly than mine.
Soon you will leave, and I work now
to make that leaving easy.
I'll patch wounds later with the crust of repetition,
but for now it is enough that you do not see me grieve.

Zoe Forney



Turn of the Year

September 10

Old upright piano
without a bench
but in good tune.
View of the blue bridge,
and of several trees
that will turn yellow
as the weeks go by.
The days seem old, too,
tuned by the repetition
of season and purpose.
Classroom, teacher, students
who do, don't, will, won't.
Threat and promise
of autumn.

September 12

Sky too blue,
sun too bright.
Flowers on my table, mustard
zinnias and red carnations,
colors leaking into the air.
The lake is still,

until a fish leaps.
Go back, fish.
This is not your element,

no heaven. He falls, ripples
curling the water a long time,
right to my feet.

Zoe Forney




It was quiet. West Philadelphia,
a good many years ago. Morning noises, the hail
of delivery man to grocer as bread stacked up,
wrapped in paper, a few deeper loaves
remembering a little warmth. Just then
a sinkhole opened and swallowed the bakery truck,
while the driver clung, staring, to the store's
doorjamb and the grocer's boy cried out,
"Did you see! Oh Lord above us, did you see!"

Some things happen suddenly. No thought.
No imagination of what might be if. Nothing.
Yet they happen, like a penance of some kind, visited
on the wrong person, the one to whom it never occurred
that air might not hold the great steel bird high enough,
to whom it makes no sense that the gargoyle should ungrip
and knock a loiterer into the grave, to whom chaos is
something to fight against as against death itself.

The sand is coarser than I remember, shifts
when I least expect it, as if there were tunnels
underfoot, or sponge. I find my bearings
only once I’m in the water, where the sun
lights shallow waves I'm in up to my knees.
There’s a violet mist across the harbor now,
so I can only almost see Manhattan, a shining cube
here, there, but indistinct, like my thoughts about it:
insistent, elusive, half reasoned, missing parts.

This is a colder world, but just as clear.
Emptied sky, but just as capable of blue.
Clocks just as cruel, trains just as fast, men just as tall,
chaos just as sweet and dark and tempting as always.
What changes is the way we look at each other,
silence ourselves, draw blame, feed squirrels,
embrace in public, or flinch when the next plane
flies overhead, remembering inside. What changes
is how we elect, every day now, to openly
face the arbitrary, or choose to crawl.

Zoe Forney


Walt's Brain

Walt Whitman died the evening of March 26, 1892. The next day, according to Justin Kaplan in Walt Whitman: A Life, "Thomas Eakins and a pupil made a death mask. Whitman's literary executors, Traubel, Bucke, and Harned, took possession of his papers and packed them into barrels. George Whitman [the poet's brother] refused to allow the autopsy; the doctors waited until he left the house that afternoon and then went ahead with their work, discovering that the immediate cause of death was pulmonary emphysema; the left lung had collapsed entirely, and the right was only fractionally functional. The doctors removed his brain and sent it to be measured and weighed at the American Anthropometric Society, where it was destroyed when a laboratory worker accidentally dropped it on the floor."

But where is what I started for, so long ago
And why is it yet unfound?
Walt Whitman

Snowdrops, witch hazel and crocus peep
through the basement window at the stiffening brain
fresh from the trepanned skull,
cradled torpid and pensive in the distant, polished oak coffin.

In bluntlight, the lab worker's formaldehyded hands,
briefly brainwashed,
caress the furrows of good gray matter.
Far away, the carcass trembles as the lab worker muses:

old ones always go just as spring comes in

Just as in life,
Walt's brain bucks, slips through the fingers,

winks and twinkles among the glass chards,
softly sighing as his mind sap
flows and ebbs in a childish gawk..

what do you do with a dropped brain

the lab worker wonders,
but by now,
synapses sputter and crackle like downed telegraph lines;
medulla, pantbreathing,
loafs behind dust balls and life stains;
cerebellum scrounges the yellowed tile for fourth-month grass.

Charged with an electric dreamstorm,
Walt's corpus callosum ruptures in blue fireball,
his cerebrum unlooses the forebrain to foreplay,
and the quivering brain-halves quest for opposing floor crannies,
In the light corner, blabbing syntax, splitting and naming
like a young Adam, the left-brain
scans tenon and mortise for knotty warts.

And in the dark corner, embracing eidolons,
Walt's sauntering right-brain
mutely carols the lab worker's facial aurora.

Quicklight, the saucy hemispheres
swell with lilac and yawp,
seeding crooned spirals of starlit compost
across the teetering beakers.

going to my grave with this

shrieks the lab worker as he scampers after the sparking brains

Nodding sagely, the snowdrops, witch hazel and crocus warble
in the float of the Walt-chant
thrumming against the basement window:

earth me water me earth me water me

Phil Dansdill