more on the Plural I from guest poet Carol Burbank

inside I contain multitudes
Carol Burbank

why don’t we believe
Walt Whitman
when he proclaims
his multitude?

we think, he sings himself,
all that he assumes I dive in
assume, assuming
he only sings in one voice

but what if
he really did (contain multitudes)?
what if his collective consciousness
wasn’t America, but Walt?

what if, over coffee,
(when he could afford it)
he talked to his selves
negotiating the day’s wash

what if, his ink splotching,
he argued revisions
with a buxom washer woman
who hated adjectives, craved strong verbs

and lived inside his head
with a petulant schoolboy
who resented grammar entirely,
nursing mother more worried about food,
bird dog, longshoreman, and of course the poet

we call Walt,
one man if we take his skin
as sign, and the writer who burned
his hidden papers

as if to say, it’s me,
I am the only one,
and that chanting Indian,
that weeping priest,

let them be

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Thoughts on the Plural I

So I’ve been thinking a lot about what we mean when we say “I,” how that is a convenient, singular screen for something very complex and not at all singular. Is “I” who I am today, who I was yesterday, who I might be? My work self or home self or first date self? My online flirting self, or the me you actually go out with? I’m starting to struggle with this question in some of my writing—more on that soon. For now, these two great quotes from that poet of the personal plural, Walt Whitman.

from “Song of Myself” 51

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

from Days Books and Notebooks

What a history is folded, folded inward and inward again in the single word “I.”