The guys are yelling, “Hey Stasha, stick your head out the window. Maybe it’ll blow the stink off ya!” That’s typical steel mill humor. That is not in bad taste, that is the way life is being lived now, at this instant. In fact, in about forty-five minutes the swing shift will be coming off duty in the forty-inch soaking pits out in Inland Steel. Right now they’re knocking down the salt tablets and they’re looking at the clock and they’re thinking about the gin joint they’re about to cram into. Somebody up front yells, “Hey, Stacha, ya goin’ to The Eagle?” You hear Stasha holler, “The Eagle? Ya wanna go to The Eagle again?” “Yeah, The Eagle.” “Okay.”
The Eagle? I’m sitting there on my first day with the bull gang. The Eagle? What is the Eagle? I want to be so much a part of this crowd. Boy, I want to be part of it. Because they all knew each other, they’d been working together for years, the whole gang, and here I was. We are at the clock house. There’s even a kind of pecking order in who gets the cards first. Big, tough guys are right in the front and all the little guys trail off behind. Doing doing doing doing doing punching the card. Doing doing doing doing doing.
I noticed that as each guy would get to the clock, he’d ring the card and boom!—he’d shoot out like a rocket. I figured they were all going out to catch the bus. The guy behind me said, “Come on, kid, let’s go! We’re going to The Eagle!” I hit the bell and boom!—we go shooting out of the door, all of us, like out of a gun and right across this rotten, crummy, steel mill road, crisscrossed overhead by eighteen million high-tension wires, telephone wires and streetcar wires, and lit by the flickering smoke and steam and bright flame of the blast furnace and the open hearth.
Right directly across this street is a store. And it has on the front of it, painted in gold, a half-baked-looking eagle. This eagle has one wing that looked like a pigeon wing and another wing that looks like a robin wing, and a big beak that looks like it belongs on a vulture. Underneath its two claws are hanging out and one claw’s got ahold of an American flag in red, white, and blue calcimine, and the other claw’s got ahold of a flag that says “C10 Steel Workers Union Local 1010.” The Eagle.
Boom! They run like mad right across the street and cars are screeching to a halt. Boom! Into The Eagle.
More Rot Gut to Come!
A child said, what is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child?….I do not know what it is any more than he.
Walt Whitman, an American, one of the roughs, a kosmos,
Disorderly fleshy and sensual….eating drinking and breeding,
No sentimentalist….no stander above men and women or apart from them….no
more modest than immodest.
Unscrew the locks from the doors!
Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!
I too am not a bit tamed….I too am untranslatable,
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.
The last scud of day holds back for me,
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the dusk.
I depart as air….I shake my white locks at the runaway sun,
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift it in lacy jags.
I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your bootsoles.
You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop some where waiting for you.
Whitman, a great self-promoter, sent a copy of the first edition of Leaves of Grass to Ralph Waldo Emerson, then the most highly regarded literary man in the country. Emerson had written “The Poet,” an essay published 1844, about 11 years before Whitman’s response in Leaves of Grass. It describes his hopes for an American poet to come with the power and art to express the United States. In it Emerson wrote: “Doubt not, O poet, but persist. Say, `It is in me, and shall out.’ Stand there, baulked and dumb, stuttering and stammering, hissed and hooted, stand and strive, until, at last, rage draw out of thee that _dream_-power which every night shows thee is thine own; a power transcending all limit and privacy,…” Emerson responded to Whitman’s gift of Leaves of Grass–click on the image to read the entire text of this, the most significant American literary letter ever written:
The varied editions of Leaves of Grass published in Whitman’s lifetime consisted of his many additions and editing of nearly every poem he’d written–thus, Leaves of Grass became many times larger than that first edition. I found that the New York Public Library had a unique copy of the 1860-1861 edition, with Whitman’s original, written-in changes and pasted-in notes. The Library had published an analysis and a facsimile which included pasted-in paper as per Whitman’s original—naturally I had to have the two-volume boxed set.
An Opening Spread of My Facsimile from the So-called
“Blue Book” Unique Copy of Leaves of Grass.
I visited Whitman’s final home, a house in Camden, NJ, bought for him by admirers. From there I drove to the cemetery containing Whitman’s gravesite, where he and his family are interred in a mausoleum he designed. In the dirt in front of it, as tribute, I buried a Lincoln penny (in remembrance of Whitman’s elegy to Lincoln).
Whitman House on Mickle Street, Camden.
End Part 2 of 3