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  • From "Walt Whitman's Inscriptions"
  • Lauren Shufran (bio)

"To Thee Old Cause"

Supplementary Material

Recording 1.

"To Thee Old Cause."

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Walt Whitman is on Tinder in India. He can't Stop swiping right; everyoneis divine. His lone Grievance is with the screen, the absence Of bodies, of embodiments. The body is where Walt's poems Begin, after all; like when he claims, in "Song of Myself," That beggars "embody themselves in me and I Am embodied in them"; and becauseof that reciprocity, Suddenly Walt can write a poem About what it's like to hunger. Walt's trouble with Tinder Is the avatar, is that he can't sympathize With an image. Turning formlessness Into form, Walt announces, is the first step To increasing intimacy. In the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna demonstrates This affinity between form and intimacy When he assumes the shape of a man and meets Arjuna On a battlefield, where they dialogue like two men On the verge of war For whom war is notthe nearest priority, About duty, illusion, and reality. This is what the word avatar Initially meant: the descent of a deity Into terrestrial form. Everyone is divine Walt's repeating like a mantra as he sweeps his thumb repeatedly Across the screen–a modern mudra of omni-reverence; But in the Gita, Arjuna actually gets to witness Krishna's theophany–beginningless, boundless, Performing unending miracles with numberless parts And infinite expressions On infinite faces–and is obliged to apologize For ever treating the god, In his finite human form, too casually. Oops, Says Arjuna; I carelessly lunched and lounged in beds with you. Except really Arjuna says nothing; Because when Krishna exhibits the infinite, Arjuna is mute with awe. Awe is not Intimacy. The avatar occasions– embodimentoccasions– Both intimacy and a kind of heedlessness. Krishna Is forgetful even of his own godhead To facilitate this intimacy, to dialogue About devotion, which is what men examine At the threshold of war. He returns To the body when he discerns Arjuna's fear, Arjuna's art And Arjuna's artlessness When coming into contact with the Absolute.

My lover is afraid of the similarities Between our bodies. Does this make her more Or less my lover. It is dawn in India; We are in bed and Walt is in the room Next door; I do pranayama While my lover sleeps. It is a filling and emptying Of form; it is control As a kind of intimacy, intimacy as a byproduct Of control as practice. I think This discipline of the breath, this witnessing The rise and fall of my own chest is my temporary joy. The Bhagavad-Gitasays it is my temporary problem; That form is but one expression Of a myriad of possibilities and thus a limitation; That attachment is a byproduct of embodiment, Which is form. It is easy to ignore One's attachments to one's lover When it is dawn, and there is togetherness And synchronous breath. I think, if I were more like Walt, I would also be able to celebrate my lover's lovers. That I would respond with more grace When the razor in her shower has a fresh blade on it, When she steps out On an evening In lipstick one shade darker Than the shade she usually wears. Lovers no longer fail–if they ever did– Because of the animosity Of gods or fathers; though they've alwaysfailed Because of form And its attendant attachments. Because one time Your lover will lose a friend And will need to grieve alone; And you won't justly be able to gauge her grief Against your sadness That you are not the object of her consolation. Because sometimes you tell your lover About rush hour traffic on the 280, emphasizing How you must endure it each timeyou come to her, And while neither of you would call it this, Each of you senses some small manipulation In what...