On The Trail Of
So this is Brooklyn,
late night streets,
I’m imagining myself
walking in Whitman's footsteps.
These are the heights
and they earn their name
as they go gleam for gleam
with the city across the river.
I take time out,
sip coffee in an outside chair
of a small cafe.
Okay so maybe it's not the cup
that Whitman's fingers wrapped around
but I borrow his idea of contemplation -
of a busy sidewalk
and what could be going on
in the heads of passersby.
I'm older than the ones
at the neighboring table.
My poetry takes a shorter route than theirs.
They swap their poems around
for criticism, but mostly for encouragement.
Over the years, I've learned to be
a table full of people by myself.
Will one of them be the next Whitman, I wonder.
Will someone trace the imprint
they leave on the land?
Or are great poets like great composers?
Dead and buried before
the rest of us get started?
I once stood in the upstairs room
where Mark Twain wrote "Tom Sawyer."
I’ve seen Poe's gravestone
and Thomas Merton's hideaway.
Our heroes can't help being taken from us.
But then, step by step, room by room,
with a map and an imagination,
death gives back a little.