Walt Whitman

The good grey poet


Song of the bleeding throat

Twenty-thousand demonstrators flooded away from the Federal Building; Michelle guided Jimmy through their turbulence by touch. Sometimes they leaned against each other; the traffic on Commonwealth Avenue nipped and snarled; the multitude weaving among cars became a meteorological event, frogs, flood, fire; no one did not know that Martin Luther King was dead and the demonstrations, riots, insurrections, people jamming the avenues were acts of nature natural as King’s death, as death itself.

Jimmy and Michelle were not so much lovers as allies, separate from the others in this moment made delirious by the power they had released and the fear it would bring. Everyone knew when Jimmy returned to San Francisco and Michelle rejoined her comrades they would blame him for ‘stealing her’ from the man with whom they thought she should be, though all had seen her make the choice, cross the room, place herself beside. In short time, the anger of both women and men would shift to rememberance of the authority they had given Jimmy and the power his words loudspoken from the van gave them to justify their own streams of action, enterprises not yet thought out, threatening to the state. And they would admire the bold freedom with which Michelle had moved from one side of the room to the other.

Jimmy saw the sign on a second floor window: Tea Room, Accurate Fortunes Read. “Hey,” he said, “we could use that.”

They were in the center of the street, a driver had the nerve to honk.

“Let’s do it.” She was girl-eager, each minute arriving off-balance, “Do you have an accurate fortune to read?”

In the tea room, the Romanovs had not yet been overthrown. A woman authored by the Tolstoy of Resurrection led them to a booth. For an extravagent five dollars, a quarter-day’s pay on the waterfront, they were served two round cakes and black tea in white china cups.

The fortune teller was authoritative, ample, grandmotherly. “No sugar,” she told Jimmy in response to his request. “I’ll be back when you have drunk.” Her accent was movie Russian? Boston Russian? Russian?

Neither wanted to talk of anything outside. They speculated on the contents of the cakes. They looked at each other and away. Jimmy wanted to say something affectionate but that would bring the world in. He placed his hand on top of hers when she slid it across the table.

“You have finished? You are ready?” The woman brought up a chair and pink cloth napkins. “Who is first?” She looked at Jimmy.

“He is,” said Michelle.

The woman peered into Jimmy’s cup, approved of something. “Pick it up with your left hand.” Jimmy felt like a child, ceremonial. “Cover the top with your right hand. Goot. Rotate the cup three times, clockwise.” Jimmy hesitated. “Clockwise.” Michelle amused, curious.

“Give it to me.” The woman turned the cup upside down on a napkin. “Place your hand on the cup. It must have your aura, your energy.” The warm base of the cup filled Jimmy’s palm like a breast.

“That is goot.” She set the cup upright, looked in. “First I tell of the past, then, if you want, the future.”

What else would he want but the future?

“You are not from here. You are from California.”

Not bad. What? the Frye boots.

“I see you in a crowd of people.”

Well, yes, look out the window.

“You are standing on a truck, a van. You are talking to the people.” Michelle glanced around the room for a television, saw none. There could be one in the kitchen.

“You are very eloquent.”

At this Jimmy could not but smile in false modesty; Michelle squeezed her nose, her lip, between finger and thumb, not to laugh.

“You will return to California soon.”

How did that qualify as past? Because it was so certain, so soon, as to overlap into the already having been. The tale of Jimmy and Michelle was almost told.

“And my future?” asked Jimmy. Leave out Michelle.

The woman studied the cup, pushed it away.

“I do not want to,” she said.

“Umh but.”

“Sometimes it is better not.”

“We paid for it.”

“I’m afraid.”

What kind of a hustle is this?

“You said you would, you promised. Now you got us worried, so you have to. Please.” Five bucks worth, lady.

“Do you insist?”


She studied the cup. For alternatives. For effect.

“I cannot explain it,” she said. “I will tell you what I see. I see a car, a regular car, sedan, it is tan. Something is wrong with it. I don’t know what. Maybe the brakes are bad, I don’t see what will happen. People want you to get in, to go with them. Don’t go in the car. Something terrible.”

She had him now.

“To me?” said Jimmy, “not someone else, a friend?”

“No, you.”

“Who are the people who want me to get in?”

“I don’t know.”

“When will this happen?”

“Not now. Maybe three months.”

“From now?”

“Three months, three or four.”

Spooked, Michelle declined a reading, wanted to invent her own future. Thank you thank you. Got their money’s worth.

Jimmy cataloged cars he knew. His own, the blue and white Ford donated as a tax write-off when its repair costs exceeded its blue book value. A gray VW bus. A mustard humpback Volvo. A green Bug. No tan sedans in Jimmy’s life.

No hiding place either, not in Tolstoy’s Russia, nor in Michelle’s bed in Michelle’s room off the hall off the courtyard off the street off Harvard Square, smelling of lilacs she bought for his going away.

When lilacs last in the courtyard bloomed. I mourned and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring. With many a pointed blossom rising delicate, with the perfume strong I love. In the swamp in secluded recesses. Song of the bleeding throat, Death’s outlet song of life.

Another assassination. Another civil war.

Here, coffin that slowly passes,

I give you my sprig of lilac.