Gabe Heilig


for Walt Whitman

I sit here, perched on your shoulders,
reading and reeling, page after page,
watching the multitudinous you tossing words like seeds,
growing and mowing the fields of my mind with the broad swing of your lines.
Sometimes I sit in the shade of your beard as you romp and stomp across a
doing my best to keep up, but trailing behind,
picking up rhythms and lines, trying to come to the place you have reached.

Here, at the edge of this road, I walk through the open gate onto yours—
I do not stop or look for safety; instead, following your tracks,
I notice that so much is empty and silent, and nothing collapses—
the fields you show us, silent as the space between worlds,
and the world's endless arguments, most about nothing—
the nothing of the mind, and the nothing it holds out
to us, whether we are right or wrong.  
Those who argue and chatter know nothing of the silence
you show us, walking the road few dare to travel,
thumb outstretched to the sun.  

And then on the road, to relax in the shade,
loafing with you, never far from the road, vortex
after vortex of you, flowing into rivers and streams of good cheer.  
You are the one we have wanted to be, the one we thought we
ourselves could be if we knew ourselves well enough to leave
the skin of our names behind.

In those luckier moments after death, you have passed here,
leaving these cuttings for us, the shoots and leaves we are left
to cultivate in our own pages,
the chapters of lives we have not written fully, nor listened in
to their silences deeply enough.

Your soul grows its bridges of bearded words—
this is the road I move toward, for I know it also moves toward me.
I will travel this way for as long as I can step, one foot above
and then under the other.  You lead us like children, harking
and barking every sound of the morning—whispering, shouting,
praying, carousing across miles of sunrise and season—
you stride forth as we follow, learning
even as we learn to leave learning behind.
We travel the fields you have opened, under the stars,
on to where nothing is known or unknown, on to where
nothing is lost, because nothing is kept, on to the place
where skins and gods mingle their names like roots in the earth.  

The road of emptiness, on and onward—
nothing of the silence you have shown us collapses,
on we follow, more than a century later,
loafing awhile, munching your leavings, working the road of the page—
page upon page, bridge beyond bridge, the emptiness pouring
the type to capture letters of fire,
on toward the light that brought us here and takes us home—
finally to sit, facing you, dew on the grass growing around us
like the earth’s tears, or yours, and growing downward also,
toward the deep graves and the good fortune they hold for us,
if only we can bring our selves onto the road curling beneath your smile,
if only we learn to relax, forgetting who we thought we had to be,
remembering who we are.  

So I sit here, loafing, grazing, resting awhile,
but not long, for I have work to do, holding my end
of the rope of silence that binds us to you,
maestro of the music of dawn, camerado of all
that does not collapse, answerer of questions
asked first and last, and not even asked, turning the page
of the soul with you.

There is work to do, the work of growing down as well as up,
coming to you sitting here, nodding in final agreement with you—
page after page we walk like this, page after page after page
teaching nothing, except how nothing is final,
page upon page teaching silence,
the space within words and always between them—
and beneath them always, the silence.

Like iron cords raising the bridges of language,
we crowd near you to view the new land,
beyond the Babels we keep treading and climbing
in endlessly repeating and endlessly shouting circles,
wide and wider, on and onward,
on toward the silence that calls us to sing
what cannot be spoken, our words like arrows, pointing beyond where they land.

Like this, we grab our canes,
hoisting again the vowels of courage
that carry us on, on and onward—
onto small roads and broad roads we travel like this,
shouting, singing, aiming our songs at the silence—
camerados of far American horizons, singing the purity of
all it will be, yet who cannot tell us exactly what it is—
camerados hoisting songs like beer, songs
that celebrate the color of air, the breath of the heart, the taste of the soul—
camerados of nothing, nothing at all.

Gabe Heilig has twice been a featured poet on Grace Cavalieri’s "The Poet and The Poem."  He was "script doctor" for A Step Away From War, narrated by Paul Newman, and has had essays published by St. Martin’s Press and Tarcher/Putnam.  He founded the only resume service ever given a lease to do business in the Pentagon and lives in Takoma Park, MD.  He can be reached at



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