I couldn't resist putting Walt Whitman into The Sweet Flag. He was one of the most intriguing, enigmatic, conflicted souls of the period. Denying who he was, yet writing such exquiste poetry that can only be fully appreciated when viewed as an expression of homoerotic love.
Whitman appears twice in The Sweet Flag. In this excerpt, we finally find out who the mysterious 'M' was in his poetry.
SET UP: Ron continues to tantalize Brandon with Matthew and deMonde's story.
“I forgive you because of your ignorance, but I am growing tired of your attitude toward Matthew.” He paused. “Perhaps you are jealous of him? He was the embodiment of the heroic ideal of that time. In fact ‑‑ listen. One day, Matthew became the object of adoration of…well, I would not wish to bandy about his name.” He smiled slyly, knowing I’d take the bait.
“Don’t fucking pinch me, but you know damned well I want to know who you’re talking about.”
“Since it cannot be proved one way or the other, I’ll tell you what I know. Matthew caught the eye of the great Walt Whitman.”
“No shit?” The light slowly dawned. “Wait a minute. You’re not going to tell me that Matthew was the mysterious ‘M’ he wrote about?”
“So, you have heard of him? You know then that Whitman trolled for boys and young men. Usually, lower class types, but one day he spied Matthew as Matthew was leaving a neighborhood eatery and was struck by Matthew’s manliness. Whitman found out where Matthew lived and deluged him with gifts. Cuban cigars, liquors, fine linen handkerchiefs, cravats, and walking sticks all arrived at his door with impassioned notes of undying love. Whitman created a non-existent love affair. He hounded Matthew to the point that he could not leave the house for fear of running into him. At last, deMonde had had enough. He arranged to meet Whitman at a café in Manhattan in a part of town where neither man was known. He knew Whitman would be there, for he had signed the letter with Matthew’s initial and intimated that he had finally succumbed to Whitman’s ‘courtship.’
“Whitman arrived early, expecting Matthew’s arrival. Instead, deMonde sat down at the secluded table for two and introduced himself as Matthew’s lover. At first, Whitman was disbelieving. It wasn’t until deMonde described Matthew’s body in loving, intimate detail that he conceded defeat. DeMonde’s delineation could only come from one who had seen Matthew naked. His portrayal of Matthew’s physique exceeded the brief look Whitman glimpsed one morning from the sidewalk as he gazed up at Matthew’s bedroom window. That wasn’t good enough for deMonde. He demanded and received Whitman’s assurance in writing that he would never reveal the name of his fixation. When, the next year, a volume of Whitman’s poetry was published, they knew at once that Whitman had adhered to the agreement, but only marginally.”
I stared at Ron, convinced yet still somewhat incredulous. “The ‘Calamus’ poems.”
“You mean Hardesty was the guy who nearly pushed Whitman over the deep end?”
“If you mean Whitman’s melodramatic response to the ending of his imaginary relationship, then yes. Did you know that the calamus plant was often called “the sweet flag” and named after the river god Calamus who mourned for the drowning of his young male lover? Whitman did. Poor Walt always vacillated over his own nature. Why do you think he left the identity of “M” a mystery? It is ironic that he and deMonde met again in quite different circumstances several years later. But that is a story for another time.” He shifted so that we faced each other. “I would rather not speak any further.” He rubbed his cock against mine and smiled. “I would rather use my mouth in a far more enjoyable manner.” He stopped rubbing, holding still while we both hardened in anticipation. He cocked his head. “Silent, again, eh? You are an apt student and deserve a reward. What shall it be?”
I grabbed his hand and curved his fingers around my dick, gripping his shoulder with my other hand. “You know damn fucking well what I want. The same damn thing as you! Fuck me!”
And he chuckled softly. “Good answer. And I will not spare the rod for fear of spoiling the student.”
He crushed his fingers around me and squeezed.
And there was no more talking.