Kenneth Salzmann

Walt Whitman’s butterfly

It’s as if Walt Whitman’s butterfly completes the composition, as if photographs never lie.
It’s as if Walt Whitman’s butterfly perches on the calloused finger of the calloused hand
that scratches the poem that never ends. It’s as if the soaring words will yawp and sprawl
on butterfly wings, fluttering across the exuberant line, the expanding leaves, the poet’s insistent
immortality. It’s as if Walt Whitman’s butterfly will pollinate the pages of other poets in other
lives, leaves, lines, that they may yawp and sprawl in breathy cadences some more. It’s as if only
Walt Whitman’s butterfly can complete the hazardous migration from century to century across
born- and unborn-generations that they might sing with open mouths his strong melodious song
of himself. It’s as if, however, on closer inspection in the beams of the moon, Walt Whitman’s
butterfly wings are the rigid wings of what turns out to be a cardboard butterfly, after all.
It’s as if the imaginary insect completes the composition, as if photographs never lie.

What but the music?

Maybe graying women and balding men are gathering
right now in every improbable town that hugs
a two-digit highway pointing vaguely toward America.

Maybe it’s turning out we are unremarkable, after all—
unique and universal, just like all the rest.

Maybe it’s nothing but the same comfortable crawl
every generation makes toward first things and well-worn
memories, when they start to notice the obituaries
are piling up higher than anyone ever thought they could.

Or maybe it is the music, after all.

What but the music might have orchestrated
forgotten revolutions and unforgettable kisses?
What but the music underscored every presumed
triumph and defeat, drew us into church basements
and into cheap apartments in bad neighborhoods,
ripped down walls, egged us on, played us out?

(Some of us never thought we’d make it this far,
and some of us were right.)

But maybe a soundtrack laid down decades ago
can permeate our souls and chart our lives
until one day we begin to see—long after we’ve
stopped looking—that astonishing rhythms
really did change the world.

What but the music might have bound us then?
What but the music might bind us again?

The Hudson Valley School in the Time of RMN

Only in Esopus does morning spill
just so, puncturing dense skies and denser
stands of oak with random spears of day
that drop upon the iced remains of summer,
falling to earth precisely where we lay,
improvising blessing and escape
from failing light. Only in Esopus did
cryptic valley rays select for targets
flat, gray monuments and secret parts
of your endless capacity for drawing,
in midstream, moonlight and quick conclusions
from the night. Only in Esopus could
taut, bright chords from a breathy canticle
take on the shape and taste of stars settling
soft in the whiteness of your prairie hands
signing flight.

About the Author

Kenneth Salzmann is a writer and poet who lives in Woodstock, NY, and Ajijic, Mexico. Since 2012, he has been a poetry judge for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. His poetry has appeared in Riverine: An Anthology of Hudson Valley Writers, Beloved on the Earth: 150 Poems of Grief and Gratitude, The Heart of All That Is, Rattle, The New Verse News, Home Planet News, The Comstock Review, Chronogram, and elsewhere. He can be contacted at


“Walt Whitman’s Butterfly” originally appeared in The Stockholm Review of Literature. “What but the music” originally appeared in Stories of Music Vol. I. “The Hudson Valley School” originally appeared in Medicinal Purposes Vol.I, No. 5.

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