The first time I said this to Danny, a few months ago, he looked at me with confusion in his eyes. He’s used to my strange pronouncements by now. However, he doesn’t know Walt Whitman’s poems the way I do. The summer I turned 30, I exulted on the streets of New York City, my head exploding with poems. I lived in New York for the summer, thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to study the poems of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman at Columbia. My life has never been the same.
I’ve always leaned toward Whitman, given his exuberance and joy for life, his delight in sensual pleasures and celebration of his rough edges, his resounding yes and his unflinching details. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large. I contain multitudes.” I think of that line nearly every day. Someday, I’ll teach it to my kids to let them know that nothing in life is that simple. I adore Emily Dickinson but I never had her restraint. Me? I’m a Whitman girl.
So I know that Walt Whitman published six editions (or maybe nine, if you include the smaller revisions) of the same book. Leaves of Grass is the only book of poems he ever wrote. The first edition of Leaves of Grass, published in 1855, contained 12 poems. The last, published in 1892, contained 400 poems. And in those intervening years, Whitman returned to his earlier poems and changed them, tightened lines, and added nuance. His early work became something even more alive for all that he had lived, which changed the cadence of those poems he once wrote, then found not good enough for his later self.
At breakfast the other day, Lucy put down her fork to make a declaration. “Here are the foods I don’t like, right now,” she said, starting to count on her fingers. Danny and I looked at each other across the table and smiled at each other’s eyes.
“Okay,” I said, putting down my fork. “I’d love to hear.”
“I don’t like mustard.” We knew that. She’s a mayonnaise girl. Mustard is too tangy for her taste. It puckers at the lips and makes you sit up straight. Mayonnaise is smooth, sliding in without much need for attention. We haven’t given her mustard in awhile. Next?
She leaned in toward us, picking up speed now. “I don’t like cabbage.”
For months, we were all eating our tacos on fresh cabbage leaves instead of tortillas. As much as I love a warm corn tortilla, there’s something enticing about a crisp cold cabbage leaf curled around a tangle of hot slow-braised pork with melted cheese and guacamole. (In fact, I’m hungry for one right now.) We started eating our tacos this way last year, when a friend of ours from Mexico told us her family always eats cabbage tacos. The first time we tried them, Lucy looked at me and shouted, “I love cabbage! This is my favorite food.” But her interest in those tacos has been dwindling.
She is six.
“Okay, Lu. No cabbage.” Desmond banged on the white plane of his highchair with a spoon, picking up on her eagerness and wanting to share too.
“Also,” Lu continued. “I don’t like broccoli or chard or cauliflower or kale.” She sat back in her chair with a big exhale, clearly done orating for a bit.
Danny and I looked at each other and shrugged. “You got it, kiddo,” he said. “We’ll keep those off your plate for now.”
Sometimes, I have stories. Often, I have stories. Our daughter is bursting with stories and questions and imaginings and more stories. I listen to her talk about her imaginary brother and his flight to Chicago…