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.”
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…
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.”
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
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.