At the Whitman Show at the Morgan Library, July 2019 – by Julia Lisella

I stare into the glass case to see Whitman’s neat 19th century script
open and vocal and easy to read. Of course, I want to have it. But the iPhone’s shadow of my own hands above the case is in the way. And though I fuss and move them and my whole body this way and that above the glass case, my image forms shadow puppets on his words—birds, bats, butterflies.  It should work the opposite way, I think, feeling his shadow on us. Opposite the glass cases photos line the wall. Whitman loved to be photographed. He said to anyone who asked that the butterfly in the photo, the one he held at the point of his finger and stared at lovingly, was real. Now I see the paper butterfly − brilliantly colored and flattened in a black frame − artifice so willing to be caught out. Had he passed the paper butterfly on to someone, the photographer? a younger poet? to hold on to, to expose him, to tease his stories from his facts?

Julia LisellaJulia Lisella’s books include Always (WordTech Editions, 2014), Terrain (WordTech Editions, 2007), and a chapbook, Love Song Hiroshima (Finishing Line Press, 2004). Her poems are widely anthologized, and have appeared in Pangyrus, Lily Poetry Review, Ploughshares, Paterson Literary Review, Mom Egg Review, Nimrod, Exit 7, Ocean State Review and others. Her newest collection, Our Lively Kingdom, was named a finalist in the Lauria/Frasca poetry prize and will be published by Bordighera Press in 2022.