Author's note: “Leaves of Lucre” appears in a completed but as as-yet-unpublished book manuscript of poems entitled The Ice-Cream Vigils: Poems on the Life and Work of Walt Whitman. If the book is ever published, it will complete what I call my Victorian trilogy, as I’ve already published whole books of poems about Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Eakins. In addition, I have published enough poems about Florence Nightingale to imagine a book of mine someday titled Four Victorians: Poems on, etc., containing those Nightingale poems and a selection of poems from the three volumes on Hopkins, Eakins, and Whitman (the latter at this point still just a hope). My history with Whitman goes back a long way (the book m.s. includes an introductory essay entitled “My Life With Walt Whitman”), to my college days when my encountering of him worked as a counterpoint to my education—good but one-sided—which consisted of eight years by Incarnate Word nuns (grade school) and eight by Jesuits (high school and college). I’ve been grateful to him ever since.
Leaves of Lucre
Walt, I have been thinking about money.
I laid myself down in the drawer of a cash register
as if it were a manger of swaddling bills.
I held the dollar sign above my mouth
and squeezed it
to live on its juice.
I thought I saw the open road
in a column of numbers.
Nowhere in a landscape of zeroes
could I find your white beard.
Not once did the butterflies Lorca saw circling your head
alight on the coins I had polished and polished
like someone masturbating.
This offer came to me:
Trade the sunlight
for a stash of gold.
And I was ready to.
I would make my life an abstraction
inside a scaffold of decimal points.
I stored my blood deep in a bank vault
and hoped it would accrue interest.
I thought if I hung large enough numbers around my neck,
I would fly.
For every plus sign,
a barbaric yawp!
But a nightmare has always recurred:
a minus sign lengthens till it loops
around my neck and pulls tight.
Walt, I confess
I took a green-faced man
in an oval frame
as my camerado.