By John McKernan:
MY GREATEST CRIMES
Were at the Walt Whitman Birthplace
Near Huntington Long Island
Where I walked impudently across the lawn
With its large sign
DO NOT WALK ON THE GRASS
Where I ignored the small warning
DO NOT ENTER
In front of a shed
Full of hand tools & power mowers
Inside which lay chunks
In cool sunlight
Of bright green sod
One of which I snatched
And stashed in the trunk of my car
All of which I planted
At different places
Around my yard here
In West Virginia
Driving away I stopped my car
And picked bunches
Of dandelions beside the road
If I had seen a lilac shrub anywhere
I would have ripped
It from the earth with my bare hands
“My Greatest Crimes” originally appeared in The 2River View 16.2 (Winter 2012), and appears here today with permission from the poet.
John McKernan—who grew up in Omaha Nebraska in the middle of the USA—is now retired after teaching 41 years at Marshall University. He lives—mostly—in West Virginia where he edits ABZ Press. His most recent book is a selected poems Resurrection of the Dust. He has published poems in The Atlantic Monthly, The Paris Review, The New Yorker, Virginia Quarterly Review, The Journal, Antioch Review, Guernica, Field and many other magazines.
Editor’s Note: Today’s poem appears simple and yet is layered with rich folds of complexity. You might contemplate what it means for a home of Whitman’s to require one to refrain from walking on the grass, and then find yourself swept away by McKernan’s extremely subtle but highly adept witticism. The poem reaches its climax with man imagining himself on his knees ripping lilac from the earth, envisioning a oneness with nature that Whitman himself would have championed.
McKernan is a master of the art of subtlety in the poem. One only has to look closely and think actively to appreciate the genius of McKernan’s craft.