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A Symposium On: Letters to Walt Whitman

CURIOUS ABRUPT QUESTIONINGS, PRESENTED TO THE POET

A Symposium On: Letters to Walt Whitman

Ben Turner
13 Snaps

Dear Walt,

Why am I such an asshole? Last night, I peed on a large stuffed dog and threw it at my girlfriend’s roommate. Five minutes later, as we were getting into a car service, I got into an argument with a man whose shirt was unbuttoned to reveal a large hairy swath. What can I say, Walt? As you can imagine, this led to a fight of sorts, whereupon I threw many punches, exuberant and inaccurate. Suffice it to say, they all missed. The offending man with hairy swath proceeded to snort in disgust and leave. My jovial answer to this was to take several running steps then stop and reverse direction, only to begin again. Silly shit really, Walt. His friend began shouting at me over and over, “Why are you such an asshole?” I really didn’t know what to say. How far back should I go? Could it be the lack of a father figure? Could it be the only gun that’s been shoved in my mouth is the one that belonged to me? Could it be the summation of every atrocity I’ve ever felt, both real and imagined? Maybe it’s just the labors amidst the ditch with the other wholesome hulks of manhood. Pink and toothsome, I know you might fancy that. In any case, please help as I would like to have an answer prepared by the time I see these men again.

Sincerely,
Bored and Alone


Dear Walt,

I haven’t been writing lately. I’ve got a good project going but it’s pretty labor-intensive, so much time at sweet-talking the crap librarian into something a bit more silky and soft. So much time slapping the dirt off my pants before I enter the cathedral. While initially I made a lot of progress, in the process feeling pretty good about myself (i.e., smart, valuable, worthwhile, good at fucking that special someone), I cannot seem to get started on the rest of it. Assailed by facts, it seems that I would rather think about the fantasy end-result (i.e., I can quit working construction, I can be financially responsible to my girlfriend, we can move to Hanoi) than actually get the work done. This has in turn proved to be disruptive in every area of my life. If I even bother to show up at the job site it’s always late. When I try to write I end up dissecting how every move I’ve ever made has been somehow wrong, how every reference book seems to weigh a ton. When I make a saving gesture toward my lover, it comes off as self-congratulatory. How can I calm down, treat others better, and get back to work?

Sincerely,
I’m in Love with the Future Self


Dear Walt,

So last night two of my friends threw themselves a going away party. Although I was suspicious that in fact they were going to be staying in town, I pledged good humor and off I went. When I arrived the party was in full swing. I found my two friends swaying shirtless to the music and felt something wonderful for them. Truly we are going to do great things in this life. However, I felt that Martin needed to have his pants pulled off. I felt that was my job. That is when,what began in a virtuous attempt to remove Martin’s belt with my knife,the party went horribly awry.

In the grasp of an idiotic reasoning, Martin began to struggle a bit and then there seemed to be an awful lot of blood. People became quite hostile. I put my knife away and tried to slip away quietly. This was not to be the case. Discovering that he had received a slice upon the index finger of his left hand, Martin began to make a scene. Luckily the band kept playing and I managed to guide him to a restroom in order to assess his wound. Now, Walt, as you probably know from your experience as a medic in the Civil War, the hand bleeds heroically despite the simplest of wounds. Adding to that of course is the alcohol, which does thin the blood and prevents coagulation. So while Martin was bleeding spectacularly, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, I have sustained much worse and managed to press on. He did not feel the same. Surrounded by a coterie of beautiful, sympathetic women, Martin simultaneously announced the end of his evening and our friendship. There was little I could do. I retreated outside in order to wait for him.

A half hour passed. When he finally came out, I pleaded for it not to end this way. He encased me in a huge bear hug, calling me names and sobbing. I began to cry as well, though I wasn’t sure why. He relieved me of my knife and jumped into a cab. Just like that, he was gone. Now Walt, surely in your occupation as a medic, when in your words, the limbs were falling dully into the pails, a benevolent gesture you might have made was construed as something else. What did you do? Could you imagine Emerson neglecting you in such a manner after you, say, accidentally nipped off a piece of his ear? Would that mean the end of a potentially rewarding friendship? Complicating the matter is the fact that I would like my knife back. Simply put, my father gave it to me and for that reason I feel the knife should be returned. But how do I ask? Then again, there seems to be a bit of anger in me as well. Why did Martin have to be such a pussy?

Sincerely,
Out on a Pass


Dear Walt,

I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge last night in homage to your poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry.” I was transfixed by the cunning stunts of light, the way the last of the sun softly died through the cloud layer, I realized that I’d forgotten my cigarettes, so I went back home to get them. Why can’t I ever stand still for five fucking minutes? Why can’t I look at the broad expanse of people without feeling alone? To my partial credit, the infirm and I seem to get along famously. The other day I was quietly eating my lunch at the park when a group of retarded children surrounded me and began making various inquisitions as to the marks upon my body. I answered every question with sincere pleasure and even good-naturedly let one of them rub his peanut butter fingers into my back. When I was working in the city, I used to chat with a dapper old man who seemed unable to communicate except for a heartbreaking smile and a callused hand to trail off the end of my shoulder. Suffice to say, Walt, I gave this man all of my secrets. Those are the times that make me believe in something greater than myself, the times that make me believe that not all people are guilty. Is there something wrong with me?

Sincerely,
Self-Hatred Is Making a Comeback


I would like to say that as Walt never addressed my questions, largely they still remain, but a while back I received a singular acorn in the mail, still green at its pointed tip. I can only assume that it was Walt who had sent it. Who else would do that? I’ve placed the acorn in its designated space so that I will be better prepared for its eventual message. Other than that, things have remained largely the same, though I am feeling a lot better about my prospects.

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