On Walt Whitman’s Penis


Thomas Eakins, on acquiring a newfangled contraption, desired to point his machine at naked humans and capture their souls. Old man, seven photographs was the title Philly’s most famous artist gave the portrait in question. Was it Walt Whitman? Who stood, “undisguised and naked” a flaccid phallus hanging, begging, questioning the viewer?

An old man, comfortable in his skin, although flabby and wrinkled and beaten by time, a body proud but sad, still empowered, posing for not just the artist but the future. Thank you, Walt for exposing your body non-electric. Curse you, Walt for the ambiguity of your sexuality. We in the 21st century are identity obsessed. We need to know what we can label you and your past cannot clearly be defined.

And yet your dick pic is so personal I feel like you sent it directly to me. Your belly protruding like mine. Your knees all busted up like mine. Your back dimples deep over your buttocks like mine. Your well-honed skeleton slumping in the frame. Your words well-crafted which is what should be deemed worthy. And yet personal controversy is what propels you. Were you a personal mentor to a young man? Or were you a pedophile masquerading as a pedagogic?

Were the accusations against you made by homophobic academics? Or did you abuse your power like so many men before and after? There is no black and white with words, only lessons to be learned.

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