One of many amazing illustrations by Allen Crawford in Whitman Illuminated: Song of Myself 

“The scent of these armpits is aroma finer than prayer…”

Years ago I plucked this line out of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. I’m not sure which chapter it’s from, Body Electric maybe. It’s a mantra that brings me strength. I can’t quote any other line of Whitman, just this one, and I usually follow it in my head with, “so fuck you.” Then, in a final gesture of defiance which I would make in real life if I was as brave as I am in my imagination, I dip my head under my arm to take a deep breath of my own body odor. Actually, I’m smelling myself right now. Mmmmm…. I haven’t showered yet today, and I didn’t shower yesterday, so I’m particularly ripe.

I know what old Walt means. He was talking about the value of every day experience being greater than the value of spiritual life. The meat of living, and all the ways in which meat can be manipulated into meals, either tasty or rotten, is no less a religious experience than casting one’s eyes to the sky with folded, demure hands. Live in the body, because that’s what we’ve got right now. We’ll all be dead soon enough, so we can save living in the spirit for then, when there’s no other choice available. My exertions are prayerful. My sweat drips on the alter of life. My soul is fed by my body and not the other way around.

I’m full of excretions. My left nostril is, for some reason, the only one of my two nares that drip when I go for a run, but tears stream down my cheeks from both eyes in the cold air for the first half mile. At night I soak the sheets with sweat from a sudden, overpowering heat that wakes me up. Drawing my hand across my chest at 2 am, I feel my fingers hydroplane from one breast to the other. I slough dead skin and microbes every second of every day. I slough pools of blood into the toilet once a month. It’s work, to do this much excreting. It’s sticky fingers and wads of toilet paper. It’s extra laundry and talcum powder in your shoes. I’m staying oiled. I’m flushing the lines.

The female form, says Walt, is

“Limitless limpid jets of love hot and enormous….quivering jelly of love…. white-blow and delirious juice.”

It’s all about the effluvia, Baby. You go ahead and wrinkle your delicate nose at my dirt, but I’ll still take a look in the toilet before I flush. I’ll still open the Kleenex after a good long blow to see the color of my own mucus. I don’t keep my sudoriferous glands from pumping with expensive antiperspirants because when I bury my nose in the folds of my flesh I want to remember that I am full of delirious juice. I don’t have to pray to know this. I am a prayer. I thank myself for me every single day.


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