Walt Whitman’s House in Camden, New Jersey by Frank Higgins

Searching down the burnt out streets
as if driving through World War II Dresden,
we pull up to the curb to ask a man directions,
but he calls us dead meat and we speed away
past hookers and kids who throw rocks,
and finally we find Walt Whitman’s house
like a war-time safe house behind the lines,
but the door’s locked; we ring the bell
and wait in the locked car
till a woman opens the door and welcomes us
and we try to ignore her knife scar from cheek to chin
as she guides us to the guest book
where we notice we’re the first guests in three days,
and she leads us from room to room
and shows us his desk, and says,
“This is where he wrote,”
and we stand staring at Whitman’s desk
and recite our favorite lines:
“Afoot and lighthearted, I take to the open road,”
“I hear America singing,”
“I sing the body electric,”
“And now conceive and show to the world
what your children en-masse really are,
(for who except myself has yet conceiv’d
what your children en-masse really are?)”
but we’re interrupted by excited voices
and we look out to see kids kicking our car
and without a word our guide calls the cops
and after the kids run from the siren
we run to our car and take to the open road,
crossing the Delaware in full retreat
in a way Washington or Whitman
or even Jack Kerouac could not conceive:
a huddled mass yearning to breathe free
by gunning our engine behind locked doors,
and with the cops on speed dial.

Frank Higgins has had plays produced across the country.  He is also the author of two books of poetry and two books of haiku.

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