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On a Lock of Hair
(Walt Whitman Centennial Exhibition)
by George Held

Browsing the holographs & letters
Stopping to peruse parts of them
Reading the neatly typed Public Library cards
Accompanying the displays in the glass-covered cases,
Admiring the bound books, the dark green
Binding the 1855 Leaves of Grass,
Studying the photographs of the poet
Growing from young dandy to young old man
To the white-bearded sage of Mickle Street,
I come upon the lock of hair he sent
In his “73d year” to H. Buxton Forman
“Folded into a sheet of the poet’s yellow writing pad
And accompanied by a second sheet autographed four times”:
“Walt Whitman / Oct. 29, ’91--America.”

And I think, “So this is how that famous head
Of hair looked: gray and white strands intermixed
In ringlets like this one, about four or five inches
In circumference and two or three in diameter
And soft as the hairs of a milkweed seed.”

No pious Christian ever prayed to touch a saint’s digit
More than I desired to touch this holy relic
(Remembering, “Who touches this, touches a man”)
The oldest human hair I’ve ever seen
My baby locks from ’38 closer in age to Walt’s
Than my sparse hairs today, 101 years later,
As I try to catch him who waits for me.



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