The Plagued Parent

posts about surviving our children, the Baby Boomers who raised us, and everyone else with an opinion...

The poetry of our very flesh

In Walt Whitman’s Preface to Leaves of Grass, Whitman writes:

“…and your very flesh shall be a great poem, and have the richest fluency, not only in its words, but in the silent lines of it lips and face, and between the lashes of your eyes and every motion and joint of your body.”

Not my beard.

Several weeks back sitting at the kitchen table having dinner, my wife mentioned that my beard was looking a little longish. Not the wild unkempt grey that Walt Whitman’s classic photo betray, but still unruly nonetheless. I have worn a mustache since I was 18, I have never shaved it off. In fact my wife, in the 30 or so years we’ve known each other, has never seen me clean shaven. Sometimes I’ll grow a full beard but most often its a goatee, which I have now, but hardly anything one would consider Whitman-esque.

When my wife pointed out the beard, my daughter — who sits next to me — chimed in, “I noticed that, too. And its really grey.”

It is grey, but I wouldn’t say really grey. Still, I imagine the grey “ages” me, makes me appear older than I feel or in fact maybe it physically depicts my chronological age rather than my “mental” age. Once my wife suggested that maybe I get rid of the grey.

For a literal minute I considered it, then decided, No way. I’m not that vain. Besides I’ve earned every grey hair I’ve got. One that troubles me most is just above my forehead. As with my beard, so with the hair atop my head. I sometimes go three or so months with out getting my hair cut, and it gets long.

When that grey hair gets long it becomes unruly, as if its out to prove a point as though he’s some revolutionary attempting to recruit for the cause attempting to “grey out” the rest of his cohorts. At present, only a few have seen fit to mutiny — a strand here or there, and predictably at the temples.

Staring in the mirror…

Edward Scissorhands Film

Not my mirror.

Admittedly it is off-putting seeing the odd stray strand of white in an otherwise sea of brown. On occasion finding such a strand strangely manifest sets me out to catalogue the adjacent deformities — other grey hairs, wrinkles and what the hell is that growing there?

Men are not immune ladies, we are not as bombarded as you are yet still we occasionally measure the “us” of now with the younger version.

Trying to see the upside, the greying and fading of the body is like lines of poetry. Erasing those “lines” is akin to rewriting a masterpiece to improve it long after the fact. Nipping, tucking and applying dye all undercut the poetry of our living and entire industries exist to manipulate our insecurities and capitalize on a desire to “revise” the self.

I think Whitman would be the first the agree, “The hell with that.”

And so…

We are who we are. We become what we become. That is it; and that is all.

I think we must be the only species of earth who considers his own aging; considers his life as acts staged between pasts, presents and futures; and we must be the only one who laments the changing and passing of things.

I don’t see out kittens, at five months of age saying, “Holy crap I’m getting old!”  Nor do I see my ten year old dog sitting wistfully on the back deck, staring into the woods and saying, “Is this all there is — eat, sleep, shit? Is this all I’ve done with my life?”

No, they do not. And neither should we.

Instead, like Whitman we should sing the Song of Myself. We should read our selves as poems in the making and as such relish every line, every crease and every fold as deeply crafted inscriptions of the un-edited lives we have lived — good, bad, and ugly.

All of this is written in our flesh and our bones. It is permanent and it is lasting.

As Whitman points out, the answer to this riddle is simple and must be accepted as real:

This is the grass that grows wherever the land is and the
     water is,
This the common air that bathes the globe.

You can comb in the Just for Men hair color, but guess what? It won’t last.  Nothing more than a temporary solution to the permanent problem we call “living”.

Good poems become great poems because they refuse to pretend.

They are who they are, and there within lies the true poetry.




Updated: August 27, 2017 — 7:13 am


  1. LOL about the animals. I agree with not changing the appearance of aging. Look at the terrible results some people get from botox, etc. I am trying to lose weight but even still I will never look like I did when I was in my twenties. Great post.

    1. Recently I learned that Botox is a poison, a toxin that causes the paralysis in the tissue into which one injects it. This is too weird for me to comprehend. “Beauty” as a form of self-poisoning. Totally messed up, no? We all just need to be happy with ourselves and avoid the “poison” of comparison.

  2. I love your grey hair revolutionary leading any who follow ro wirey resistance. So good hair becomes grey hair because they refuse pretend?

    1. I guess that’s certainly one way to consider it. I’ll have to ask one of the pigment-free radicals next time they crop up.

  3. You can join us in the FB group called Going Grey Gracefully!! Totally accepting, totally fun!

    1. Sounds like a great group. Thanks for the invite…

  4. Ah. Some brain candy today. Love this one, thanks so very much !!

    1. You are welcome Carol. Thanks for taking a look it is always appreciated.

  5. That’s a beautiful way of looking at it.

  6. My hairline is receding a bit, thankfully not greying just yet, but I’m with you; no shaving! Solidarity, brother!

    1. Thanks for having my back, he says with fist raised defiantly in the air.

  7. I really enjoyed this post and can relate to the ageing theme. It’s a wonderful analogy.

  8. I wish I could get grey hair, instead I just keep getting a forehead that is getting more and more exposure to the sun!

    1. There’s probably a pharmaceutical that will address that… but then again that defies the point I guess…

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