Thursday, October 26, 2023

“The Song of Himself”

Another maniac, thought Milford. But then, who am I to speak critically?

“Hey, don’t keep me hanging, chum,” said the big guy. “I’m asking you for a handshake, pure and simple, one hearty chap to another, and I assure you my hand is clean.”

Milford sighed, for the twelve-thousandth-plus-one time this day, and extended his hand, which the big fellow took and squeezed.

“Perhaps you’ve heard of me,” he said.

“Walt Whitman? Sure,” said Milford.

“So you are a reader of poetry?”

“Uh, yeah, sure –”

“Splendid. And have you read my work?”

“Walt Whitman’s work?” said Milford.

“Yes, my work.”

The man still held onto Milford’s hand, squeezing it with great strength.

“Okay,” said Milford, “look, uh, sir, can I have my hand back now?”

“Do you fear the honest handshake, flesh to flesh, of your friendly fellow man?”

“Yes,” said Milford.

“Ha ha,” said the Walt Whitman impersonator.

“And anyway,” said Milford, “I just want my hand back because I want to get out of this men’s room.”

“Oh, very well,” said the man, and at last his large hand released Milford’s small hand.

“Thanks,” said Milford. He could feel the sweat of the big man’s hand on the outside of his own, and he stretched out and flexed his fingers to restore the flow of his thin blood.

“I hope I did not cause you physical pain with my powerful grip,” said the man. “I am a great devotee of physical exercise, and from my youth it has been my daily practice to go to the gymnasium and climb ropes with the agility of our simian forebears, toss medicine balls with abandon, and swing dumbbells quite vigorously. It also goes without saying that I adore a good stout perspirant bout of Greco-Roman wrestling.”

“Great,” said Milford. “Look, nice meeting you, but I really have to go now.”

The madman took a step sideways, blocking Milford’s path to the door.

“At first I conjectured by your rough attire that you must be a slightly undersized seaman or longshoreman. But, having now felt the gentle silken softness of your lily-white hands, I’ll venture that you are, like me, a poet.”

Milford added one more sigh to the sighs of his day, bringing their number up to 12,002.

“Yes, I’m a poet,” he said, “but a bad poet. And now if you’ll excuse me and let me pass.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” said the big man. “Walt Whitman has been dead and buried lo this more than two score and ten of years, so how could he now be standing before me, a burly bruiser in the prime of his life, here in this jakes of a Greenwich Village trattoria?”

“Yes, but I was born and raised in this neighborhood, and have become used to its profusion of lunatics, so I can’t say I’m surprised.”

“Take a dekko at what I’m gonna show you, pal.” The guy was wearing a sturdy brown woolen coat, and he reached into one of its pockets and brought out a book. “Here, open this up and turn to the frontispiece.”

Milford took the book and obediently opened it up, but only because he was a coward. Sure enough, the book was an old edition of Leaves of Grass, and there opposite the title page was a photograph of a man in a workman’s coat and slouch hat who looked exactly like the man who now stood before him.

“Okay,” said Milford. “Great. You’re Walt Whitman.”

He closed the book and proffered it back to the man.

“You’re convinced now?”

“Yeah,” said Milford, “sure.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“Look, mister, what would you think if some dead poet suddenly appeared to you and said he was alive?”

“I wouldn’t think anything of it, because I associate in brotherly good comradeship with deceased poets all the time.”

“Okay, well, that’s good to hear, but, look, here’s your book back because I really have to go.”

“Smoke a bowl with me first.”


“Share a fraternal pipe with me.”

He held up the pipe, which had gone out.

“No, thank you,” said Milford.

“I don’t have cooties.”

“I’m sure you don’t,” said Milford, although he was sure of nothing of the sort.

“This is my special blend,” said the man. “The finest Kentucky  burley mixed with Lebanese hash.”


“Hashish. Dynamite shit, man.”

“Oh, no.”

“I thought you were a poet.”

“A bad poet, yes, but I just smoked marijuana not long ago, and just now I ate some mushrooms which I suspect are the mind-altering kind. Also, I foolishly drank some wine, which I shouldn’t have, because I am an alcoholic.”

“A couple of hits aren’t going to kill you, buddy. Here, look.” The man reached into a pocket and brought out a wooden match. He struck it on the engraved outside of the bowl of his pipe, and, putting the mouthpiece into his bearded lips, his drew the flame in, puffing quickly and deeply, then held the smoke in. “Wow,” he said, after holding it in for a minute and then exhaling in Milford’s face.

He held out the pipe, the stem pointed at Milford’s mouth.

“Your turn.”

“I don’t want it,” said Milford.

“You’re gonna hurt my feelings,” said the guy.

“Oh, Christ,” said Milford.

“Don’t bring our lord and savior into this, Mimford.”


“Milford, sorry, but leave the Big Fellow out of this. This is between us, two manly troubadours. Like the noble native red man, I offer you the pipe of friendship, and I shall take it as the gravest insult should you refuse.”

“Oh, all right,” said Milford, because he didn’t want to make a scene, and because he was afraid the man might become violent, and thrash him, leaving him bleeding and unconscious here on the stained and butt-strewn tiles of this men’s room. He took the pipe. The man’s match had gone out, so he tossed it to the litter on the floor, and brought out another one from his coat pocket, striking it expertly on the thumbnail of the hand that held it. Milford wiped the stem of the pipe on the sleeve of his coat and put it in his lips, and the man gave him a light.

Five minutes later (or was it a half hour?) Milford was still standing there and holding the pipe, which had been passed back and forth to the man several times, and refilled at least two or three or four times from a leather pouch the man had fished out of his work coat. 

Up from the depths of Milford’s brain arose the bubble of a thought which burst with the words, Will I ever learn?

he answered himself, I’ll never learn.

“Oh, shit,” he said.

“What’s the matter, Mungford?”

“I have a lady friend waiting for me out there. She’ll be wondering what happened to me.”

“Are you entirely sure of that?”

“I am entirely sure of nothing.”

“In my experience,” said the man, “other people very rarely wonder what has happened to us.”

“I have to go. Here’s your pipe back. Oh, and your book.”

“Keep the book.”

“But it looks valuable.”

“It is.”

“I can’t accept it.”

“Yes you can.”

“Wait, are you really Walt Whitman?”

“Of course.”

“Oh. Christ.”

“Again, my dear fellow, leave the son of God out of this. All you need to know is that I – and you, and all men – exist outside and independent of that concept we call ‘time’.”

“Uh, okay.”

“Come with me, my good fellow, and I shall show you where all your favorite allegedly dead heroes live and thrive, and raise and down tankards of strong ale and get roaring drunk but never hungover.”

“I can’t, I just remembered, again, that my lady friend is waiting for me.”

“Maybe she’s waiting.”

“Maybe,” said Milford. “But, look, I have to go.”

“Bring her along.”


“Bring this alleged ‘lady friend’ with you. Is she nice?”


“Contrary to what you may have heard I have nothing against the fair sex. I am quite good friends with Mistress Bradstreet, with Harriet Beecher Stowe, with Emily Dickinson. Oh, If I were not a gentleman, sir, I could tell you tales about Miss Emily Dickinson! I know she has the reputation of a shy, sensitive spinster, and I’ll admit there is some truth in that characterization, but, believe you me, you get a couple of sherries in her while down the tavern listening to a Negro jug band play their ribald minstrelsy, and just won’t little Miss Belle of Amherst leap up and dance the Black Bottom with the best of them!”

“Um, uh –”

“Give me the pipe.”

Milford gave the man the pipe.

“Now put that book in your pocket.”

Milford stuffed the book into the pocket of his pea coat.

“And now,” said Walt Whitman, “my new good youthful friend, let us strike out, and strike forth, to a very special place that only the select few have visited this side of the grave.”

“What place?”

“Valhalla, my friend. Yes, it is a place we not so very jokingly call Valhalla.”

“Oh,” said Milford, with a feeling of both dread and wonder.

{Yes, this is the 200th episode I’ve composed in this series since we started it in November of 2019! Please go here to read the unexpurgated “adult comix” version in A Flophouse Is Not a Home, illustrated by the illustrious rhoda penmarq…}


Rowan Barfoot said...

Hi Dan,

I was wondering where you find your Pulp fiction artwork from. I'm looking for this specific image:

I believe its from your novel, 'Railroad Train to heaven'

I would like to use it as an album cover but I'm worried it's copyrighted. If you could give me an insight that would be brilliant.

Many thanks,


Dan Leo said...

Hi, Rowan,

Wow, I put up that post eight years ago and have no idea where I found it. I would do an image search to try to find out if it's copyrighted.