The Wound Before the Tomb of Walt Whitman
Translated by Carolyn Forché
You who saw the vast oceans
and the peaks of the mountains,
who communed with all the sailors of the world
and you who saw Christ eat the bread of his last supper among the
and the elders,
you who saw the executioner of Europe
with his ax soaked with blood,
You stepped on the scaffold
and the fields in which mothers cried to their dead children.
Tell me if it is still
possible to announce triumphant justice
and deliver the lessons of the new world.
I’m going to kiss your lips,
they are cold and taste like the word America.
About This Poem
“Great Again. How to recover the greatness. Adjectives are circumstantial, but the nouns are chests that keep safe the essence of things, their moral dimension. What is America? This is the big question. What is the America that we want? Does a unique America like the one Whitman imagined exist? What is the great America that the slogans refer to? Is it the America of Walt Whitman or Charles Whitman? Is it the America of the person who shot a rifle from the sixth floor of the Book Depository in Dallas or the America of the one who received the bullet?”
Fernando Valverde is author of several poetry collections, including The Insistence of Harm (University Press of Florida, 2019) and Poesia (1997-2017) (Visor, 2017). His work has been translated into several languages, and he is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Virginia. He lives in Charlottesville, North Carolina.
Carolyn Forché is the author of What You Have Heard Is True: A Memoir of Witness and Resistance (Penguin Press, 2019). She is a University Professor at Georgetown University.