Song in Spite of Myself: An Ode to Whitman

Updated on August 5, 2019
barksey profile image

Chelsey is an Undergraduate student at the University of Central Florida, where they are pursuing a Bachelors in English Literature.

Still trying to find your 'barbaric yawp'? Me too.

Source

"You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead.."

— Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I have never celebrated nor sung myself.

I have no barbaric yawp but please—

Walt, imagine a gentle melody

As I confess to you these terrible things.

This is my Song, In Spite of My Self.

You wrote, “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead."

But I must explain why this is often my second nature.

A sizable chunk of my life has been reiterated to me by family and friends; a kaleidoscope of assorted perceptions and temporal distortions.

I listen politely to amusing tales or nostalgic narratives about my past selves, but I am purely a voyeur.

Sometimes I feel something in my soul waver, accompanied by a sense of longing so strong that my eyes water, but it only ends in pain.

The chasm grows wider; my trunk gutted and hollow.

Often, I’m a stranger to myself; most of my information retrieved secondhand.

The thoughts that sear through me are often not my own.

They belong to my mother; guttural threats of brutality and revelations of disgust,

Relentlessly reminding me of my worthlessness, and how unlovable and sinful I am.

During my childhood, I had learned to hide; to make myself small while wishing to disappear.

I have my mother’s eyes; it’s difficult to defy the urge to view the world through the eyes of the dead.

Her ghost possesses me.

Walt, you reminded me I am a culmination of all my ancestors.
Twice, in fits of hysterical desperation, I’ve tried to claw my mother from my face.

"I wanted to lie upon the forest floor and let the trees crack open my ribs."

Mother’s milk was poisoned; I was fed words of vitriolic loathing and lamenting self-pity.

When my eyes fell upon, “each part and tag of me is a miracle,” and “If I worship one thing more than another it shall be the spread of my own body, or any part of it,” tears sprung to my eyes.

I was conditioned to hate my body; to be afraid of being seen.

I have never once found myself to be beautiful.
“Your face has character,” my grandfather once told me.

My mother’s fists did not feel like love nor did my step-father’s wandering hands.

I starved myself to be less visible; to occupy less space.

I burnt and scarred my body in an effort to claim it as my own.

I wanted to lie upon the forest floor and let the trees crack open my ribs.

I thought I was in love once, but I was merely afraid of being alone.

We were seventeen when she asked, “What do you think about before you fall asleep?”

I did not pause to wonder if she expected sheep or “You, of course, darling.”
I told her the truth; I thought my mother’s God was deaf because he never seemed to hear me.

I thought about my disease and how there’s no cure.
I thought about how I wished it’d take me.
I told her how I thought about it the way people call it euthanasia for terminal cancer patients but suicide for Major Depressive Disorder.
Mostly I thought about the places I hoped to visit—San Francisco, New Orleans, the ocean—and how I’d never make it there.
So my hospice became the imaginary New Orleans I created inside my head.

I shared a bed with her for seven years before I learned how to say No.

"I do not doubt that Betelgeuse, a strong shoulder of Orion, may not know its own magnitude like we may not recognize our own."

But In Spite of My Self, I am the first to remind someone of their magnitude.

Unashamed, I proclaim that we are energy; we cannot be created nor destroyed.

For the thoughts that course through our mind reverberate supergiants of the past—Galileo, Mary Shelley, Anne Sexton, Sagan, and, of course, you—Walt Whitman.

When one is feeling lonely, I romanticize astronomical theories like that of the Multiple Worlds Theory like a soliloquy.

We are physics—every action has an opposite and equal reaction—every single action, everything we choose to do creates a parallel universe, as though our lives splinter off into branches, there may be another one of us in a corresponding universe who might be living with the consequence.

Sometimes our parallel selves cross paths; we are never alone—every version of us spread out across the entirety of existence racing toward our selves; every version existing in the same place for a while.

In Spite of My Self, I revel that everything is composed of star stuff; almost every chemical was formed in the heart of a star.

“You and I are energy and light,” I will inform some loved one who may feel sullen.

Because while we may not fathom our own brilliance, for we lack introspection or may feel eclipsed by others, we are radiant; constants made from recycled chromosomes.

I do not doubt that Betelgeuse, a strong shoulder of Orion, may not know its own magnitude like we may not recognize our own.

"I, who tried to die at sixteen, made it to thirty."

But we form a constellation of affections—friends, families, communities, philosophies.

Our core is formed of our ideologies, opinions, beliefs; some of us may wobble on our axis.

We are magnetic—attracting or repelling.

Like our cousin the bacteria, there are symbiotic relationships as well as parasitic.

We orbit one another, all of us bound together by gravity; tethered as one in our state of constant freefall.

We have atmospheres; thick skin filtering bombardments from absorbing into our hearts.

We are DNA, all Terran life birthed from a common ancestor; we are the spider, the rodent, closer related to the pests we despise than carnivores.

Animals compose merely one branch of the Tree of Life, and we have billions of years of history coursing through our veins.

We are music and love, evolution and mutation.

Daily, I must remind myself I am luminous.

I shine through a kaleidoscope of color; a spectrum of behaviors and idiosyncrasies emitting an aura.

I am a universe of atoms; I am matter made of blood, hair, flesh and sinew, of stardust and supernovas.

I contain galaxies of nuclei, of neurotransmitters; electrical impulses.

My synapses are solar flares.

I, who tried to die at sixteen, made it to thirty.

St. Augustine Pier; 12/25/14
St. Augustine Pier; 12/25/14 | Source

I, who never imagined I’d live to see the ocean, stood on St. Augustine Pier on December 25, 2014 and gazed in open awe at the majesty of the Atlantic.

I, who never thought I’d make it out of my small Indiana hometown, stood on Ocean Beach in San Francisco on October 6, 2016, and closed my eyes to simply bask in the Pacific air.

I, who was told I was too stupid to attend college, felt my previous selves crowd around me as I cradled my Associates degree to my chest and cried on the living room floor.

I, who was told that I’d never amount to anything, am proud of myself.

Though I have much to accomplish, I have survived much.

I have faced brutality but have not let my heart become a fist.

In Spite of My Self, my eyes blur in absolute admiration when I stand under a large tree—

Gnarled, knotted limbs that stretched toward the sky like capillaries,

And the oak, waving its welcome in the gentle breeze.

How can one not marvel at such beauty?

I have been humbled by the Atlantic and Pacific,

Honored to have met such gorgeous bodies that have existed long before myself and will thrive long after my departure.

I have been left breathless by watercolor sunsets; clouds of pink, purple, and yellow hues left by tender brushstrokes.

I cannot doubt that Mother Nature is an artist.

The stars remind me that out of all of space and time, of all the galaxies with planets in the habitable zones of their solar systems, I’m here.

I have been billions of years in the making.

If that is not love on the largest, most immeasurable scale, I cannot fathom what is.

My Song may be off-key and possess a simple melody, but it’s mine.

Somehow, my heart still pounds bravely within my chest.

One day I will find my voice—my barbaric yawp—In Spite of My Self.

Until then, thank you, Walt, for yours.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Chelsey

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • HexAegon profile image

        Adnan 

        2 months ago from Earth, Universe

        I may not have witnessed it first hand and I certainly am not the wisest at the age of 17 yet I can really sense pain in this verse but I can also view the rise of a phoenix from the dreaded ashes of past ....the fire being poetry and writing....But I am really happy that simple words of verses helped you out from the dark gallows. I hope and wish for the brightest future ahead . The poem , really presents a heartfelt ode to Walt Whitman. He was really a man of great words...and one of my biggest inspirations...Thanks for sharing , Chelsea

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, letterpile.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://letterpile.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)