Posted in: Civil War, Jimi Hendrix, Memorial Day, poetry, Walt Whitman

Memorial Day – Whitman Witnesses

Memorial Day began as a way to honor soldiers who died in the Civil War. Coincidentally, Walt Whitman’s birthday was a few days ago. One year, I wrote him a birthday poem, after having seen a play about him. The play movingly used his own lines to express his witnessing and nursing of the suffering soldiers. Today I’m grateful for Whitman’s moving tributes to the hundreds of thousands who made their sacrifice in our Civil War to secure equality. Happy birthday, Walt Whitman.

Happy Birthday, My Captain
May 21
Poet, light a candle on a small cake
for Uncle Walt, standing on the road, hatless,
bowing to the President this dark night.
Every night our uncle bows
to the haunted man
who rides to his hilltop cottage alone,
past assassins, and past an old poet,
carrying grief under his tall black hat.
Watch him, your great
Uncle, reading letters
to soldiers falling into their lilac sleep.
How he goes home to write
in loping lines and to rove
the globe in dreams,
blending East and West
as America’s brothers
lie in ditches bleeding.
See him also as Jimi Hendrix,
mouthing the guitar strings,
rag tied around his head
a wounded soldier, wrestling
a lyric with a shredded flag.
Hear Uncle Walt in every beat
of drums, in dreams of peace
dying away as still soldiers
die, and lilacs
bloom in more guitars.
This May day we give you
a hat-raise, Uncle Walt,
our everypoet.
We wish you rockets
breaking into flowers,
singing that weaves into war’s
clattering omnibus wheels
to halt them. From the shores
of the great Myself, we wave
to you. Be rocked and roll
all day in your song’s long halleloo.
— from Gods of Water and Air (Available at Amazon)
Visit for more information and writing by Rachel Dacus.