In all people I see myself, none more and not one a barley-corn less,
And the good or bad I say of myself I say of them.
—From “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman
Where are you, Walt?
The Open Road goes to the used-car lot.
Where is the nation you promised?
—From “Walt Whitman at Bear Mountain” by
Where are you, Walt Whitman? With the inaugural guests who showed up
wearing buttons and waving flags while a white man
in a MAGA hat recites an allegiance? Or are you holding a protest sign,
chased by police down alleys, or corralled in holding areas
in parks where blades of grass are trampled down?
Surely you didn’t arrive in a limo wearing a Hermes tie
and Gucci loafers, editing a list of all the ills your kind has suffered.
Please tell me that wasn’t you. Maybe, Walt Whitman,
you refused to attend. Paid no attention to the TV crews or barricades;
instead, walked six miles to work in a hotel laundry, cleaned pots in an
Was that you hunched over in a bean field? Or cutting your palms
on corn husks? Or driving the tuxedo-clad senators in your checkered cab?
Walt Whitman, I was awake election night crying while a woman
in Kentucky sang praises that her god was stronger
than me and mine. What song did you sing, Walt Whitman?
If you are all of us, you, too, must have cried, but also cheered,
and you must have gloated and mourned, shouted in joy,
dropped your head in disbelief. Did you really believe
everyone’s invited to the party? Including this woman on CNN
who likes “alternative facts,” or this man in the grocery line
who doesn’t know what to believe since the tabloids
offer no clues? Or this one who only wants her deported sister back,
or the one in the airport cuffed and hauled away?
How can you stand to be them all, Walt Whitman?
How can you stand to be you? How can you still sing your song?
Oh, Walt, where are you now? Where are you hiding?
Are you the one bleeding in an Afghani barrack?
Are you the one nestled in the fast-food wrappers inside the trash
Perhaps that’s you watching the gathering crowd from your K Street
Maybe you are the one that lost a job, lost a child, lost yourself
inside the towering bills and notices. Maybe you are
the high school student cowering in a closet, listening for the AR-15s
crack and thump, the journalist struggling for facts,
the poet afraid words no longer mean as they once did
when you resounded over lines as far reaching as empire itself.
Now we find America’s epic compressed to a singularity, weighted down
by 240 characters, where the elected shaman is a used car salesman
twittering his song from a king-sized bed, an aria claiming all of this
and all of us are “Lies, Lies, Lies. Sad. Sad. Sad.”
Once, Walt Whitman, we were together. I forget the rest.*
is the author of five books and chapbooks, including most recently Ravenous: New
& Selected Poems and Toward Any Darkness. Recent poems and essays
have appeared in a variety of periodicals such as Crab Orchard Review, Poet Lore,
Poetry East, South Carolina Review, Southeast Review, and Southern Poetry
Review, among others. He has received the Gearhart Poetry Prize, a Hawthornden
Fellowship, and The Literary Review’s Charles Angoff Award, among
others. Mulkey currently directs and teaches in the low-residency MFA program
in Creative Writing at Converse College.
Everywhere Becomes Home, a review by William Wright of
Mulkey’s book Ravenous in Flycatcher Journal
⚡ Beautiful and Terrible: An Interview with Barbara Hamby in
The Southeast Review (2 December 2018), in which Hamby discusses her choice
of Mulkey’s poem “Cured” as winner of the 2018 Gearhart Poetry