Poetry Friday: {Strangers}

“A stranger is just a friend I haven’t met yet.” – Will Rogers

Talking to strangers: Blogging is a strange, one-sided conversation which occasionally transcends its epistolary roots and becomes a vibrant, intelligent conversation among like-minded strangers. I have made friends on blogs – serious friends. Friends who are going to see me for the first time at the ALA Convention. Friends who have never met me, and still have invited me into their homes, into their parent’s home, and to play with their children, pets, and spouses.

On hearing that MARE’S WAR was being honored, and I was attending in D.C., I was offered spare rooms and guest rooms. Sight unseen, these people opened their homes and hearts.

Part of me thinks, Are they crazy?

Part of me wonders how they figure I’m not crazy.

How did we get to that place? Would we have been able to get to this place via Facebook?

Passing strangers – people who come by and comment, who give a word of advice, caution, or approval; who share a laugh or share an opinion – just people who seem to pass my “stop” frequently on their way to the rest of the world. I’ve gotten used to seeing them, and they’ve gotten used to talking to me. We’ve started to trust each other.

Talking to strangers. An impulse, that friendliness. What else might it gain me?

 To a Stranger

– Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass, 1900.

PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking, (it comes to me, as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,
You grew up with me, were a boy with me, or a girl with me,
I ate with you, and slept with you—your body has become not yours only, nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass—you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you—I am to think of you when I sit alone, or wake at night alone,
I am to wait—I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

“To A Stranger” is also known as “Calamus 22.” “Calamus” is a cycle of 45 poems that were included in the editions of Leaves Of Grass. This series of poems is about attachments, in most cases, gender varied attachments, and, arguably, interactions between strangers. I think this is less sexual (many people make that mistake with Whitman, and that’s all they see – the potential for something deviant, since that was the first of the criticism he received in 1855, and what English teachers thereafter have told their students. Read more closely.) than a joyful acceptance of anyone, and everyone. Walt Whitman’s poems fairly vibrate with excitement of meeting someone new. He was so willing, and so open to the experiences this world can bring — while knowing its harshness and shadowed areas. And yet — he was open, still.

I am to see to it that I do not lose you. How do I do that?

How do you?

Poetry Friday is hosted today by the gorgeously-smiling Kelly Polark. Join the strangers over there.

9 Replies to “Poetry Friday: {Strangers}”

  1. I’ve done a lot of traveling this last few years, and almost everywhere I’ve gone, there’s been a blog friend to have dinner or coffee with, to stay with. I love that.

    I love Whitman, too.

  2. I’d be nowhere myself if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers. Seriously: I’ve been lost hundreds of times and I’d be out there still if people hadn’t gently told me how I could get myself home.

    The kindness of strangers works both ways, you know! It’s not just the strangers who invite you, it’s those who are brave enough to take them up on it.

  3. Just this morning I, too, was thinking about the closeness I feel to the “strangers” I’ve met through blogging…I think we know each other more deeply sometimes than friends we have in real life because we share more of our deep selves through our writing than we ever do in passing in the hallway when we say, “How was your weekend?” “Great! How was yours?”

    I am SO looking forward to seeing new friends in person at ALA! 😀

    1. For me, it’s because I inhabit my writing much more than my speaking, much more than my live conversation, much more than my corporeal self. I was always better friends with my pen pals, when I was a kid, when I was with the classmates I saw on a daily basis. Odd how things don’t change. In person, I make mistakes, misspeak, use clouds of words when a simple turn of phrase would have done. In blogging, I have a delete key. My better self appears herein…

  4. the kindness of strangers…some of the deepest and most interesting conversations are those which I’ve had with strangers–on trains, airplanes, waiting rooms. (and now I must find the quote about every meeting is a door opening into a new world, something, something, something.)

    When I read about Whitman’s work in the Civil War hospitals, I am doubly struck by the lightness and sheer JOY in his poetry.

    And yes, do enjoy playing with other people’s spouses :mrgreen:

  5. Well, we all know *you’re* crazy, but we still like you. 😀

    And whose spouses are you planning to “play” with, anyway?!

    Can’t wait to meet you.

Leave a Reply