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Walt Whitman on Weed

Dave Newman

I didn’t know anyone who read books—
not my friends, not my parents,
not even my teachers at school.
Newspapers and magazines, maybe,
but mostly it was TV or the movies,
so I don’t know what I was doing
up at one AM with a yellow pencil
and a lined notebook, scribbling.
One minute, I was thinking about
my girlfriend, the next minute
she was in a poem, a rhyming poem,
sure, but a real poem nonetheless.
“Never surrender, never let go,”
I wrote, and followed it up with,
“Our love is young and will grow.”
I could recite the rest by heart,
but you would, understandably, vomit.
But that doesn’t matter. She loved it.
I filled up a whole journal in days.

We spent Friday night in a motel,
making love and watching HBO,
while our parents thought we were
all-night bowling, and I said, “I want
to live like this with you,” and she
said, “I love you forever,” and I read
her the one I’d written about marriage
and sex, and how she made me feel
fresh and new, like her virginity had
been something we’d both shared.
When I took the car home, I was five
minutes late, and my mom bawled me out.
The next weekend, my girlfriend’s
parents sat on the couch and watched
a movie with us, even though it was
obvious we were burning for each other.
Couldn’t they see anything? This was love.
I was a poet. She was my muse. I was
writing poetry. Nothing else mattered.

Another time, when I was in my room,
trying to find something that rhymed
with eternity (other than “the sound of
your pee”), my mom came in and said,
“What are you writing?” and I said,
“Nothing,” and she said, “Let me see,”
and I said, “Please leave me alone,”
and covered the page with my arms,
and she said, “You don’t need to see
your girlfriend again tonight. You’re
too young to see each other every day.”

Two weeks later, driven by forces
beyond my comprehension, I found
myself in a bookstore at Monroeville
Mall, befuddled. I looked at the poetry
section. I looked in science fiction.
I went back to poetry, where I found
a huge paperback by Walt Whitman.
I read his bio. I checked out his picture.
With his funny hat and long beard,
the man looked like a wizard. I checked
the price. I can still remember the numbers:
$5.95. Obviously, you didn’t pay by the pages!
I read a couple lines. I read a couple more.
I tried to think about what I read, but
the language was like Shakespeare.
All language is like Shakespeare when
you go to a high school that allows you
to graduate without having read a novel,
and the English teachers think Jack London
is still contemporary and on the cutting edge.
I went back to the science fiction section
and bought a copy of The Hobbit, a book
highly revered amongst the stoners who played
guitar and hung around the art room, looking deep.

At home, I read the first two chapters.
I read them again and again and again.
Everyone, it seemed, was a Shakespeare.
I called my girlfriend to tell her
I loved her with all my heart and soul.
Giddy, she said, “Write me another poem!”
Another poem? Oh, she deserved a novel.
And she got one, a twenty-two page,
single-spaced, hand-written fantasy novel,
set in the faraway land of BeGone,
where two kids who loved each other
very much, sat around smoking ssarg,
drinking reeb and looking for caves
where they could make love,
away from their parents who, of course,
didn’t understand anything at all.

Dave Newman

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Author Discusses Poems