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. . Poems Carl Sandburg

. . Poems Carl Sandburg.

 

I Am the People, the Mob

I am the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is
done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
makes me work and give up what I have. And I
forget.
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a
sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.

 

I Sang

I sang to you and the moon
But only the moon remembers.
I sang
O reckless free-hearted
free-throated rythms,
Even the moon remembers them
And is kind to me.

 

Ice Handler

I know an ice handler who wears a flannel shirt with pearl buttons the size of a dollar,
And he lugs a hundred-pound hunk into a saloon ice-box, helps himself to cold ham and rye bread,
Tells the bartender its hotter than yesterday and will be hotter yet to-morrow, by Jesus,
And is on his way with his head in the air and a hard pair of fists.
He spends a dollar or so every Saturday night on a two hundred pound woman who washes dishes in the Hotel Morrison.
He remembers when the union was organized he broke the noses of two scabs and loosened the nuts so the wheels came off six different wagons one morning, and he came around and watched the ice melt in the street.
All he was sorry for was one of the scabs bit him on the knuckles of the right hand so they bled when he came around to the saloon to tell the boys about it.

 

Improved Farm Land

Tall timber stood here once, hee on a corn belt farm along the Monon.
Here the roots of a half-mile of trees dug their runners deep in the loam for a grip and a hold against wind storms.
Then the axemen came and the chips flew to the zing of steel and handle--the lank railsplitters cut the big ones first, the beeches and the oaks, then the brush.
Dynamite, wagons, and horses took the stumps--the plows sunk their teeth in--now it is first class corn land--omproved property--and the hogs grunt over the fodder crops.
It would come hard now for this half mile of improved farm land along the Monon corn belt, on a piece of Grand Prarie, to remember once it had a great singing family of trees.

 

In a Back Alley

Remembrance for a great man is this.
The newsies are pitching pennies.
And on the copper disk is the mans face.
Dead lover of boys, what do you ask for now?

 

In a Breath

High noon. White sun flashes on the Michigan Avenue
asphalt. Drum of hoofs and whirr of motors.
Women trapsing along in flimsy clothes catching
play of sun-fire to their skin and eyes.

Inside the playhouse are movies from under the sea.
From the heat of pavements and the dust of sidewalks,
passers-by go in a breath to be witnesses of
large cool sponges, large cool fishes, large cool valleys
and ridges of coral spread silent in the soak of
the ocean floor thousands of years.

A naked swimmer dives. A knife in his right hand
shoots a streak at the throat of a shark. The tail
of the shark lashes. One swing would kill the swimmer. . .
Soon the knife goes into the soft under-
neck of the veering fish. . . Its mouthful of teeth,
each tooth a dagger itself, set row on row, glistens
when the shuddering, yawning cadaver is hauled up
by the brothers of the swimmer.

Outside in the street is the murmur and singing of life
in the sun--horses, motors, women trapsing along
in flimsy clothes, play of sun-fire in their blood.

 

Interior

In the cool of the night time
The clocks pick off the points
And the mainsprings loosen.
They will need winding.
One of these days
they will need winding.

Rabelais in red boards,
Walt Whitman in green,
Hugo in ten-cent paper covers,
Here they stand on shelves
In the cool of the night time
And there is nothing . . . .
To be said against them . . . .
Or for them . . . .
In the cool of the night time
And the docks.

A man in pigeon-gray pyjamas.
The open window begins at his feet
And goes taller than his head.
Eight feet high is the pattern.

Moon and mist make an oblong layout.
Silver at the man's bare feet.
He swings one foot in a moon silver.
And it costs nothing.

(One more day of bread and work.
One more day . . . .so much rags .

The man barefoot in moon silver
Mutters "You" and "You"
To things hidden
In the cool of the night time,
In Rabelais, Whitman, Hugo,
In an oblong of moon mist.

Out from the window . . . . prairielands.
Moon mist whitens a golf ground.
Whiter yet is a limestone quarry.
The crickets keep on chirring.

Switch engines of the Great Western
Sidetrack box cars, make up trains
For Weehawken, Oskaloosa, Saskatchewan;
The cattle, the coal, the corn, must go
In the night . . . . on the prairielands.

Chuff-chuff go the pulses.
They beat in the cool of the night time.
Chuff-chuff and chuff-chuff . . . .
These heartbeats travel the night a mile
And touch the moon silver at the window
And the hones of the man.
It costs nothing.

Rabelais in red boards,
Whitman in green,
Hugo in ten-cent paper covers,
Here they stand on shelves
In the cool of the night time
And the clocks.

 

Iron

Guns,
Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.

Shovels,
Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.

I ask you
To witness--
The shovel is brother to the gun.

 

It Is Much

Women of night life amid the lights
Where the line of your full, round throats
Matches in gleam the glint of your eyes
And the ring of your heart-deep laughter:
It is much to be warm and sure of to-morrow.

Women of night life along the shadows,
Lean at your throats and skulking the walls,
Gaunt as a bitch worn to the bone,
Under the paint of your smiling faces:
It is much to be warm and sure of to-morrow.

 

Jack

Jack was a swarthy, swaggering son-of-a-gun.
He worked thirty years on the railroad, ten hours a day, and his hands were tougher than sole leather.
He married a tough woman and they had eight children and the woman died and the children grew up and went away and wrote the old man every two years.
He died in the poorhouse sitting on a bench in the sun telling reminiscences to other old men whose women were dead and children scattered.
There was joy on his face when he died as there was joy on his face when he livedhe was a swarthy, swaggering son-of-a-gun.

 

Jaws

Seven nations stood with their hands on the jaws of death.
It was the first week in August, Nineteen Hundred Fourteen.
I was listening, you were listening, the whole world was listening,
And all of us heard a Voice murmuring:
I am the way and the light,
He that believeth on me
Shall not perish
But shall have everlasting life.
Seven nations listening heard the Voice and answered:
O Hell!
The jaws of death began clicking and they go on clicking.
O Hell!

 

Joy

Let a joy keep you.
Reach out your hands
And take it when it runs by,
As the Apache dancer
Clutches his woman.
I have seen them
Live long and laugh loud,
Sent on singing, singing,
Smashed to the heart
Under the ribs
With a terrible love.
Joy always,
Joy everywhere--
Let joy kill you!
Keep away from the little deaths.

 

June

Paula is digging and shaping the loam of a salvia,
Scarlet Chinese talker of summer.
Two petals of crabapple blossom blow fallen in Paula's
hair,
And fluff of white from a cottonwood.

 

Jungheimer's

In western fields of corn and northern timber lands,
They talk about me, a saloon with a soul,
The soft red lights, the long curving bar,
The leather seats and dim corners,
Tall brass spittoons, a nigger cutting ham,
And the painting of a woman half-dressed thrown reckless across a bed after a night of booze and riots.

 

Killers

I am singing to you
Soft as a man with a dead child speaks;
Hard as a man in handcuffs,
Held where he cannot move:

Under the sun
Are sixteen million men,
Chosen for shining teeth,
Sharp eyes, hard legs,
And a running of young warm blood in their wrists.

And a red juice runs on the green grass;
And a red juice soaks the dark soil.
And the sixteen million are killing. . . and killing
and killing.

I never forget them day or night:
They beat on my head for memory of them;
They pound on my heart and I cry back to them,
To their homes and women, dreams and games.

I wake in the night and smell the trenches,
And hear the low stir of sleepers in lines--
Sixteen million sleepers and pickets in the dark:
Some of them long sleepers for always,
Some of them tumbling to sleep to-morrow for always,
Fixed in the drag of the world's heartbreak,
Eating and drinking, toiling. . . on a long job of
killing.
Sixteen million men.

 

Kin

Brother, I am fire
Surging under the ocean floor.
I shall never meet you, brother
Not for years, anyhow;
Maybe thousands of years, brother.
Then I will warm you,
Hold you close, wrap you in circles,
Use you and change you
Maybe thousands of years, brother.

 

Languages

There are no handles upon a language
Whereby men take hold of it
And mark it with signs for its remembrance.
It is a river, this language,
Once in a thousand years
Breaking a new course
Changing its way to the ocean.
It is mountain effluvia
Moving to valleys
And from nation to nation
Crossing borders and mixing.
Languages die like rivers.
Words wrapped round your tongue today
And broken to shape of thought
Between your teeth and lips speaking
Now and today
Shall be faded hieroglyphics
Ten thousand years from now.
Sing--and singing--remember
Your song dies and changes
And is not here to-morrow
Any more than the wind
Blowing ten thousand years ago.

 

Last Answers

I wrote a poem on the mist
And a woman asked me what I meant by it.
I had thought till then only of the beauty of the mist,
how pearl and gray of it mix and reel,
And change the drab shanties with lighted lamps at evening
into points of mystery quivering with color.

I answered:
The whole world was mist once long ago and some day
it will all go back to mist,
Our skulls and lungs are more water than bone and tissue
And all poets love dust and mist because all the last answers
Go running back to dust and mist.

 

Laughing Corn

There was a high majestic fooling
Day before yesterday in the yellow corn.

And day after to-morrow in the yellow corn
There will be high majestic fooling.

The ears ripen in late summer
And come on with a conquering laughter,
Come on with a high and conquering laughter.

The long-tailed blackbirds are hoarse.
One of the smaller blackbirds chitters on a stalk
And a spot of red is on its shoulder
And I never heard its name in my life.

Some of the ears are bursting.
A white juice works inside.
Cornsilk creeps in the end and dangles in the wind.
Always--I never knew it any other way--
The wind and the corn talk things over together.
And the rain and the corn and the sun and the corn
Talk things over together.

Over the road is the farmhouse.
The siding is white and a green blind is slung loose.
It will not be fixed till the corn is husked.
The farmer and his wife talk things over together.

 

Lawyer

When the jury files in to deliver a verdict after weeks of direct and cross examinations, hot clashes
of lawyers and cool decisions of the judge,
There are points of high silence--twiddling of thumbs is at an end--bailiffs near cuspidors take fresh
chews of tobacco and wait--and the clock has a chance for its ticking to be heard.
A lawyer for the defense clears his throat and holds himself ready if the word is "Guilty" to enter
motion for a new trial, speaking in a soft voice, speaking in a voice slightly colored with bitter wrongs
mingled with monumental patience, speaking with mythic Atlas shoulders of many preposterous,
unjust circumstances.

 

Letters to Dead Imagists

EMILY DICKINSON:

You gave us the bumble bee who has a soul,
The everlasting traveler among the hollyhocks,
And how God plays around a back yard garden.

STEVIE CRANE:

War is kind and we never knew the kindness of war till you came;
Nor the black riders and clashes of spear and shield out of the sea,
Nor the mumblings and shots that rise from dreams on call.

 

Limited

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.
Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.
(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)
I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
answers: "Omaha."

 

Loam

In the loam we sleep,
In the cool moist loam,
To the lull of years that pass
And the break of stars,

From the loam, then,
The soft warm loam,
We rise:
To shape of rose leaf,
Of face and shoulder.

We stand, then,
To a whiff of life,
Lifted to the silver of the sun
Over and out of the loam
A day.

 

Localities

Wagon wheel gap is a place I never saw
And Red Horse Gulch and the chutes of Cripple Creek.

Red-shirted miners picking in the sluices,
Gamblers with red neckties in the night streets,
The fly-by-night towns of Bull Frog and Skiddoo,
The night-cool limestone white of Death Valley,
The straight drop of eight hundred feet
From a shelf road in the Hasiampa Valley:
Men and places they are I never saw.

I have seen three White Horse taverns,
One in Illinois, one in Pennsylvania,
One in a timber-hid road of Wisconsin.

I bought cheese and crackers
Between sun showers in a place called White Pigeon
Nestling with a blacksmith shop, a post-office,
And a berry-crate factory, where four roads cross.

On the Pecatonica River near Freeport
I have seen boys run barefoot in the leaves
Throwing clubs at the walnut trees
In the yellow-and-gold of autumn,
And there was a brown mash dry on the inside of their hands.
On the Cedar Fork Creek of Knox County
I know how the fingers of late October
Loosen the hazel nuts.
I know the brown eyes of half-open hulls.
I know boys named Lindquist, Swanson, Hildebrand.
I remember their cries when the nuts were ripe.
And some are in machine shops; some are in the navy;
And some are not on payrolls anywhere.
Their mothers are through waiting for them to come home.

 

Losses

And a child,
A banjo
And shadows.
(Losses of God,
All will go
And one day
We will hold
Only the shadows.)

 

Lost

Desolate and lone
All night long on the lake
Where fog trails and mist creeps,
The whistle of a boat
Calls and cries unendingly,
Like some lost child
In tears and trouble
Hunting the harbor's breast
And the harbor's eyes.

 

Mag

I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you to get married in the day we ran off to a minister
And told him we would love each other and take care of each other
Always and always long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere.
Yes, Im wishing now you lived somewhere away from here
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away dead broke.
I wish the kids had never come
And rent and coal and clothes to pay for
And a grocery man calling for cash,
Every day cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish to God the kids had never come.

 

Mamie

Mamie beat her head against the bars of a little Indiana town and dreamed of romance and big things off somewhere the way the railroad trains all ran.
She could see the smoke of the engines get lost down where the streaks of steel flashed in the sun and when the newspapers came in on the morning mail she knew there was a big Chicago far off, where all the trains ran.
She got tired of the barber shop boys and the post office chatter and the church gossip and the old pieces the band played on the Fourth of July and Decoration Day
And sobbed at her fate and beat her head against the bars and was going to kill herself
When the thought came to her that if she was going to die she might as well die struggling for a clutch of romance among the streets of Chicago.
She has a job now at six dollars a week in the basement of the Boston Store
And even now she beats her head against the bars in the same old way and wonders if there is a bigger place the railroads run to from Chicago where maybe there is
romance
and big things
and real dreams
that never go smash.

 

Manitoba Childe Roland

Last night a January wind was ripping at the shingles
over our house and whistling a wolf song under the
eaves.
I sat in a leather rocker and read to a six-year-old girl
the Browning poem, Childe Roland to the Dark
Tower Came.
And her eyes had the haze of autumn hills and it was
beautiful to her and she could not understand.
A man is crossing a big prairie, says the poem, and
nothing happens--and he goes on and on--and it's
all lonesome and empty and nobody home.
And he goes on and on--and nothing happens--and he
comes on a horse's skull, dry bones of a dead horse--
and you know more than ever it's all lonesome and
empty and nobody home.
And the man raises a horn to his lips and blows--he
fixes a proud neck and forehead toward the empty
sky and the empty land--and blows one last wonder-
cry.
And as the shuttling automatic memory of man clicks
off its results willy-nilly and inevitable as the snick
of a mouse-trap or the trajectory of a 42-centimetre
projectile,
I flash to the form of a man to his hips in snow drifts
of Manitoba and Minnesota--in the sled derby run
from Winnipeg to Minneapolis.
He is beaten in the race the first day out of Winnipeg--
the lead dog is eaten by four team mates--and the
man goes on and on--running while the other racers
ride, running while the other racers sleep--
Lost in a blizzard twenty-four hours, repeating a circle
of travel hour after hour--fighting the dogs who
dig holes in the snow and whimper for sleep--
pushing on--running and walking five hundred
miles to the end of the race--almost a winner--one
toe frozen, feet blistered and frost-bitten.

And I know why a thousand young men of the North-
west meet him in the finishing miles and yell cheers
--I know why judges of the race call him a winner
and give him a special prize even though he is a
loser.
I know he kept under his shirt and around his thudding
heart amid the blizzards of five hundred miles that
one last wonder-cry of Childe Roland--and I told
the six year old girl about it.
And while the January wind was ripping at the shingles
and whistling a wolf song under the eaves, her eyes
had the haze of autumn hills and it was beautiful
to her and she could not understand.

 

Manual System

Mary has a thingamajig clamped on her ears
And sits all day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in.
Flashes and flashes--voies and voices
calling for ears to put words in
Faces at the ends of wires asking for other faces
at the ends of other wires:
All day taking plugs out and sticking plugs in,
Mary has a thingamajig clamped on her ears.

 

Margaret

Many birds and the beating of wings
Make a flinging reckless hum
In the early morning at the rocks
Above the blue pool
Where the gray shadows swim lazy.

In your blue eyes, O reckless child,
I saw today many little wild wishes,
Eager as the great morning.

 

Mask

Fling your red scarf faster and faster, dancer.
It is summer and the sun loves a million green leaves, masses of green.
Your red scarf flashes across them calling and a-calling.
The silk and flare of it is a great soprano leading a chorus
Carried along in a rouse of voices reaching for the heart of the world.
Your toes are singing to meet the song of your arms:

Let the red scarf go swifter.
Summer and the sun command you.

 

Masses

Among the mountains I wandered and saw blue haze and red crag and was amazed;
On the beach where the long push under the endless tide maneuvers, I stood silent;
Under the stars on the prairie watching the Dipper slant over the horizons grass, I was full of thoughts.
Great men, pageants of war and labor, soldiers and workers, mothers lifting their childrenthese all I touched, and felt the solemn thrill of them.
And then one day I got a true look at the Poor, millions of the Poor, patient and toiling; more patient than crags, tides, and stars; innumerable, patient as the darkness of nightand all broken, humble ruins of nations.

 

Maybe

Maybe he believes me, maybe not.
Maybe I can marry him, maybe not.

Maybe the wind on the prairie,
The wind on the sea, maybe,
Somebody, somewhere, maybe can tell.

I will lay my head on his shoulder
And when he asks me I will say yes,
Maybe.

 

Medallion

The brass medallion profile of your face I keep always.
It is not jingling with loose change in my pockets.
It is not stuck up in a show place on the office wall.
I carry it in a special secret pocket in the day
And it is under my pillow at night.
The brass came from a long ways off: it was up against hell and high water, fire and flood, before the
face was put on it.
It is the side of a head; a woman wishes; a woman waits; a woman swears behind silent lips that the
sea will bring home what is gone.

 

Mill-Doors

You never come back.
I say good-by when I see you going in the doors,
The hopeless open doors that call and wait
And take you then forhow many cents a day?
How many cents for the sleepy eyes and fingers?

I say good-by because I know they tap your wrists,
In the dark, in the silence, day by day,
And all the blood of you drop by drop,
And you are old before you are young.
You never come back.

 

Momus

Momus is the name men give your face,
The brag of its tone, like a long low steamboat whistle
Finding a way mid mist on a shoreland,
Where gray rocks let the salt water shatter spray
Against horizons purple, silent.

Yes, Momus,
Men have flung your face in bronze
To gaze in gargoyle downward on a street-whirl of folk.
They were artists did this, shaped your sad mouth,
Gave you a tall forehead slanted with calm, broad wisdom;
All your lips to the corners and your cheeks to the high bones
Thrown over and through with a smile that forever wishes and wishes, purple, silent, fled from all the iron things of life, evaded like a sought bandit, gone into dreams, by God.

I wonder, Momus,
Whether shadows of the dead sit somewhere and look with deep laughter
On men who play in terrible earnest the old, known, solemn repetitions of history.

A droning monotone soft as sea laughter hovers from your kindliness of bronze,
You give me the human ease of a mountain peak, purple, silent;
Granite shoulders heaving above the earth curves,
Careless eye-witness of the spawning tides of men and women
Swarming always in a drift of millions to the dust of toil, the salt of tears,
And blood drops of undiminishing war.

 

Monosyllabic

Let me be monosyllabic to-day, O Lord.
Yesterday I loosed a snarl of words on a fool, on a child.
To-day, let me be monosyllabic . . . . a crony of old men who wash sunlight in their fingers and enjoy slow-pacing clocks.

 

Monotone

The monotone of the rain is beautiful,
And the sudden rise and slow relapse
Of the long multitudinous rain.

The sun on the hills is beautiful,
Or a captured sunset sea-flung,
Bannered with fire and gold.

A face I know is beautiful--
With fire and gold of sky and sea,
And the peace of long warm rain.

 

Muckers

Twenty men stand watching the muckers.
Stabbing the sides of the ditch
Where clay gleams yellow,
Driving the blades of their shovels
Deeper and deeper for the new gas mains
Wiping sweat off their faces
With red bandanas
The muckers work on .. pausing .. to pull
Their boots out of suckholes where they slosh.

Of the twenty looking on
Ten murmer, O, its a hell of a job,
Ten others, Jesus, I wish I had the job.

 

Murmurings in a Field Hospital

[They picked him up in the grass where he had lain two
days in the rain with a piece of shrapnel in his lungs.]

Come to me only with playthings now. . .
A picture of a singing woman with blue eyes
Standing at a fence of hollyhocks, poppies and sunflowers. . .
Or an old man I remember sitting with children telling stories
Of days that never happened anywhere in the world. . .

No more iron cold and real to handle,
Shaped for a drive straight ahead.
Bring me only beautiful useless things.
Only old home things touched at sunset in the quiet. . .
And at the window one day in summer
Yellow of the new crock of butter
Stood against the red of new climbing roses. . .
And the world was all playthings.

 

Neighbors

On Forty-first Street
near Eighth Avenue
a frame house wobbles.

If houses went on crutches
this house would be
one of the cripples.

A sign on the house:
Church of the Living God
And Rescue Home for Orphan Children.

From a Greek coffee house
Across the street
A cabalistic jargon
Jabbers back.
And men at tables
Spill Peloponnesian syllables
And speak of shovels for street work.
And the new embankments of the Erie Railroad
At Painted Post, Horse's Head, Salamanca.

 

Nigger

I am the nigger.
Singer of songs,
Dancer
Softer than fluff of cotton
Harder than dark earth
Roads beaten in the sun
By the bare feet of slaves
Foam of teeth breaking crash of laughter
Red love of the blood of woman,
White love of the tumbling pickaninnies
Lazy love of the banjo thrum
Sweated and driven for the harvest-wage,
Loud laugher with hands like hams,
Fists toughened on the handles,
Smiling the slumber dreams of old jungles,
Crazy as the sun and dew and dripping, heaving life of the jungle,
Brooding and muttering with memories of shackles:
I am the nigger.
Look at me.
I am the nigger.

 

Nocturne in a Deserted Brickyard

Stuff of the moon
Runs on the lapping sand
Out to the longest shadows.
Under the curving willows,
And round the creep of the wave line,
Fluxions of yellow and dusk on the waters
Make a wide dreaming pansy of an old pond in the night.

 

Noon Hour

She sits in the dust at the walls
And makes cigars,
Bending at the bench
With fingers wage-anxious,
Changing her sweat for the day's pay.

Now the noon hour has come,
And she leans with her bare arms
On the window-sill over the river,
Leans and feels at her throat
Cool-moving things out of the free open ways:

At her throat and eyes and nostrils
The touch and the blowing cool
Of great free ways beyond the walls.

 

Old Woman

The owl-car clatters along, dogged by the echo
From building and battered paving-stone.
The headlight scoffs at the mist,
And fixes its yellow rays in the cold slow rain;
Against a pane I press my forehead
And drowsily look on the walls and sidewalks.

The headlight finds the way
And life is gone from the wet and the welter
Only an old woman, bloated, disheveled and bleared.
Far-wandered waif of other days,
Huddles for sleep in a doorway,
Homeless.

 

Omaha

Red barns and red heiffers spot the green
grass circles around Omaha--the farmers
haul tanks of cream and wagon-loads of
cheese.

Shale hogbacks across the river at Council
Bluffs--and shanties hang by an eyelash to
the hill slants back around Omaha.

A span of steel ties up the kin of Iowa and
Nebraska across the yellow, big-hoofed Missouri
River.

Omaha, the roughneck, feeds armies,
Eats and swears from a dirty face.
Omaha works to get the world a breakfast.

 

On the Breakwater

On the breakwater in the summer dark, a man and a girl are sitting,
She across his knee and they are looking face into face
Talking to each other without words, singing rythms in silence to each other.

A funnel of white ranges the blue dusk from an outgoing boat,
Playing its searchlight, puzzled, abrupt, over a streak of green,
And two on the breakwater keep their silence, she on his knee.

 

On the Way

Little one, you have been buzzing in the books,
Flittering in the newspapers and drinking beer with lawyers
And amid the educated men of the clubs you have been getting an earful of speech from trained tongues.
Take an earful from me once, go with me on a hike
Along sand stretches on the great inland sea here
And while the eastern breeze blows on us and the restless surge
Of the lake waves on the breakwater breaks with an ever fresh monotone,
Let us ask ourselves: What is truth? what do you or I know?
How much do the wisest of the worlds men know about where the massed human procession is going?

You have heard the mob laughed at?
I ask you: Is not the mob rough as the mountains are rough?
And all things human rise from the mob and relapse and rise again as rain to the sea?

 

Onion Days

Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street
every morning at nine o'clock
With kindling wood piled on top of her head, her eyes
looking straight ahead to find the way for her old feet.
Her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, whose
husband was killed in a tunnel explosion through
the negligence of a fellow-servant,
Works ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, picking onions
for Jasper on the Bowmanville road.
She takes a street car at half-past five in the morning,
Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti does,
And gets back from Jasper's with cash for her day's
work, between nine and ten o'clock at night.
Last week she got eight cents a box, Mrs. Pietro
Giovannitti, picking onions for Jasper,
But this week Jasper dropped the pay to six cents a
box because so many women and girls were answering
the ads in the Daily News.
Jasper belongs to an Episcopal church in Ravenswood
and on certain Sundays
He enjoys chanting the Nicene creed with his daughters
on each side of him joining their voices with his.
If the preacher repeats old sermons of a Sunday, Jasper's
mind wanders to his 700-acre farm and how he
can make it produce more efficiently
And sometimes he speculates on whether he could word
an ad in the Daily News so it would bring more
women and girls out to his farm and reduce operating
costs.
Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti is far from desperate about life;
her joy is in a child she knows will arrive to her in
three months.
And now while these are the pictures for today there are
other pictures of the Giovannitti people I could give
you for to-morrow,
And how some of them go to the county agent on winter
mornings with their baskets for beans and cornmeal
and molasses.
I listen to fellows saying here's good stuff for a novel or
it might be worked up into a good play.
I say there's no dramatist living can put old Mrs.
Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that kindling
wood piled on top of her head coming along Peoria
Street nine o'clock in the morning.

 

Our Prayer of Thanks

For the gladness here where the sun is shining at evening on the weeds at the river,
Our prayer of thanks.

For the laughter of children who tumble barefooted and bareheaded in the summer grass,
Our prayer of thanks.

For the sunset and the stars, the women and the white arms that hold us,
Our prayer of thanks.

God,
If you are deaf and blind, if this is all lost to you,
God, if the dead in their coffins amid the silver handles on the edge of town, or the reckless dead of war days thrown unknown in pits, if these dead are forever deaf and blind and lost,
Our prayer of thanks.

God,
The game is all your way, the secrets and the signals and the system; and so for the break of the game and the first play and the last.
Our prayer of thanks.

 

Pals

Take a hold now
On the silver handles here,
Six silver handles,
One for each of his old pals.

Take hold
And lift him down the stairs,
Put him on the rollers
Over the floor of the hearse.

Take him on the last haul,
To the cold straight house,
The level even house,
To the last house of all.

The dead say nothing
And the dead know much
And the dead hold under their tongues
A locked-up story.

 

Passers-By

Passers-by,
Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city's afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

Passers-by,
I remember lean ones among you,
Throats in the clutch of a hope,
Lips written over with strivings,
Mouths that kiss only for love.
Records of great wishes slept with,
Held long
And prayed and toiled for. .

Yes,
Written on
Your mouths
And your throats
I read them
When you passed by.

 

Pearl Fog

Open the door now.
Go roll up the collar of your coat
To walk in the changing scarf of mist.

Tell your sins here to the pearl fog
And know for once a deepening night
Strange as the half-meanings
Alurk in a wise woman's mousey eyes.

Yes, tell your sins
And know how careless a pearl fog is
Of the laws you have broken.

 

Pennsylvania

I have been in Pennsylvania,
In the Monongahela and Hocking Valleys.

In the blue Susquehanna
On a Saturday morning
I saw a mounted constabulary go by,
I saw boys playing marbles.
Spring and the hills laughed.

And in places
Along the Appalachian chain,
I saw steel arms handling coal and iron,
And I saw the white-cauliflower faces
Of miner's wives waiting for the men to come home from the day's work.

I made color studies in crimson and violet
Over the dust and domes of culm at sunset.

 

People Who Must

I painted on the roof of a skyscraper.
I painted a long while and called it a day's work.
The people on the corner swarmed and the traffic cop's whistle never let up all afternoon.
They were the same as bugs, many bugs on their way--
These people on the go or at a standstill;
And the traffic cop a spot of blue, a splinter of brass,
Where the black tids ran around him
And he kept the street. I painted a long while
And called it a day's work.

 

Personality

Musings of a Police Reporter in the Identification Bureau

You have loved forty women, but you have only one thumb.
You have led a hundred secret lives, but you mark only
one thumb.
You go round the world and fight in a thousand wars and
win all the world's honors, but when you come back
home the print of the one thumb your mother gave
you is the same print of thumb you had in the old
home when your mother kissed you and said good-by.
Out of the whirling womb of time come millions of men
and their feet crowd the earth and they cut one anothers'
throats for room to stand and among them all
are not two thumbs alike.
Somewhere is a Great God of Thumbs who can tell the
inside story of this.

 

Picnic Boat

Sunday night and the park policemen tell each other it
is dark as a stack of black cats on Lake Michigan.
A big picnic boat comes home to Chicago from the peach
farms of Saugatuck.
Hundreds of electric bulbs break the night's darkness, a
flock of red and yellow birds with wings at a standstill.
Running along the deck railings are festoons and leaping
in curves are loops of light from prow and stern
to the tall smokestacks.
Over the hoarse crunch of waves at my pier comes a
hoarse answer in the rhythmic oompa of the brasses
playing a Polish folk-song for the home-comers.

 

Plowboy

After the last red sunset glimmer,
Black on the line of a low hill rise,
Formed into moving shadows, I saw
A plowboy and two horses lined against the gray,
Plowing in the dusk the last furrow.
The turf had a gleam of brown,
And smell of soil was in the air,
And, cool and moist, a haze of April.

I shall remember you long,
Plowboy and horses against the sky in shadow.
I shall remember you and the picture
You made for me,
Turning the turf in the dusk
And haze of an April gloaming.

 

Poems Done On A Late Night Car

I. CHICKENS

I am The Great White Way of the city:
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:
"Girls fresh as country wild flowers,
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at
the ashes of my mysteries."

II. USED UP

Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination
upon the painted faces of women on
North Clark Street, Chicago

Roses,
Red roses,
Crushed
In the rain and wind
Like mouths of women
Beaten by the fists of
Men using them.
O little roses
And broken leaves
And petal wisps:
You that so flung your crimson
To the sun
Only yesterday.

III. HOME

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry
in the darkness.

 

Pool

Out of the fire
Came a man sunken
To less than cinders,
A tea-cup of ashes or so.
And I,
The gold in the house,
Writhed into a stiff pool.

 

Poppies

She loves blood-red poppies for a garden to walk in.
In a loose white gown she walks
and a new child tugs at cords in her body.
Her head to the west at evening when the dew is creeping,
A shudder of gladness runs in her bones and torsal fiber:
She loves blood-red poppies for a garden to walk in.

 

Population Drifts

New-mown hay smell and wind of the plain made her
a woman whose ribs had the power of the hills in
them and her hands were tough for work and there
was passion for life in her womb.
She and her man crossed the ocean and the years that
marked their faces saw them haggling with landlords
and grocers while six children played on the stones
and prowled in the garbage cans.
One child coughed its lungs away, two more have adenoids
and can neither talk nor run like their mother,
one is in jail, two have jobs in a box factory
And as they fold the pasteboard, they wonder what the
wishing is and the wistful glory in them that flutters
faintly when the glimmer of spring comes on
the air or the green of summer turns brown:
They do not know it is the new-mown hay smell calling
and the wind of the plain praying for them to come
back and take hold of life again with tough hands
and with passion.

 

Prairie Waters By Night

Chatter of birds two by two raises a night song joining a litany of running water--sheer waters
showing the russet of old stones remembering many rains.

And the long willows drowse on the shoulders of the running water, and sleep from much music;
joined songs of day-end, feathery throats and stony waters, in a choir chanting new psalms.

It is too much for the long willows when low laughter of a red moon comes down; and the willows
drowse and sleep on the shoulders of the running water.

 

Prayers of Steel

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a crowbar.
Let me pry loose old walls.
Let me lift and loosen old foundations.

Lay me on an anvil, O God.
Beat me and hammer me into a steel spike.
Drive me into the girders that hold a skyscraper together.
Take red-hot rivets and fasten me into the central girders.
Let me be the great nail holding a skyscraper through blue nights into white stars.

 

Primer Lesson

Look out how you use proud words.
When you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them back.
They wear long boots, hard boots; they walk off proud; they can't hear you calling--
Look out how you use proud words.

 

Ready to Kill

Ten minutes now I have been looking at this.
I have gone by here before and wondered about it.
This is a bronze memorial of a famous general
Riding horseback with a flag and a sword and a revolver
on him.
I want to smash the whole thing into a pile of junk to be
hauled away to the scrap yard.
I put it straight to you,
After the farmer, the miner, the shop man, the factory
hand, the fireman and the teamster,
Have all been remembered with bronze memorials,
Shaping them on the job of getting all of us
Something to eat and something to wear,
When they stack a few silhouettes
Against the sky
Here in the park,
And show the real huskies that are doing the work of
the world, and feeding people instead of butchering them,
Then maybe I will stand here
And look easy at this general of the army holding a flag
in the air,
And riding like hell on horseback
Ready to kill anybody that gets in his way,
Ready to run the red blood and slush the bowels of men
all over the sweet new grass of the prairie.

 

River Roads

Let the crows go by hawking their caw and caw.
They have been swimming in midnights of coal mines somewhere.
Let 'em hawk their caw and caw.

Let the woodpecker drum and drum on a hickory stump.
He has been swimming in red and blue pools somewhere hundreds of years
And the blue has gone to his wings and the red has gone to his head.
Let his red head drum and drum.

Let the dark pools hold the birds in a looking-glass.
And if the pool wishes, let it shiver to the blur of many wings, old swimmers from old places.

Let the redwing streak a line of vermillion on the green wood lines.
And the mist along the river fix its purple in lines of a woman's shawl on lazy shoulders.

 

Salvage

Guns on the battle lines have pounded now a year
between Brussels and Paris.
And, William Morris, when I read your old chapter on
the great arches and naves and little whimsical
corners of the Churches of Northern France--Brr-rr!
I'm glad you're a dead man, William Morris, I'm glad
you're down in the damp and mouldy, only a memory
instead of a living man--I'm glad you're gone.
You never lied to us, William Morris, you loved the
shape of those stones piled and carved for you to
dream over and wonder because workmen got joy
of life into them,
Workmen in aprons singing while they hammered, and
praying, and putting their songs and prayers into
the walls and roofs, the bastions and cornerstones
and gargoyles--all their children and kisses of
women and wheat and roses growing.
I say, William Morris, I'm glad you're gone, I'm glad
you're a dead man.
Guns on the battle lines have pounded a year now between
Brussels and Paris.

 

Sea Slant

On up the sea slant,
On up the horizon,
The ship limps.

The bone of her nose fog-gray,
The heart of her sea-strong,
She came a long way,
She goes a long way.

On up the sea slant,
On up the horizon,
She limps sea-strong, fog-gray

She is a green-lit night gray.
She comes and goes in sea-fog.
Up the horizon slant she limps.

 

Sea-Wash

The sea-wash never ends.
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.
Only old songs? Is that all the sea knows?
Only the old strong songs?
Is that all?
The sea-wash repeats, repeats.

 

Sheep

Thousands of sheep, soft-footed, black-nosed sheep--
one by one going up the hill and over the fence--one by
one four-footed pattering up and over--one by one wiggling
their stub tails as they take the short jump and go
over--one by one silently unless for the multitudinous
drumming of their hoofs as they move on and go over--
thousands and thousands of them in the grey haze of
evening just after sundown--one by one slanting in a
long line to pass over the hill--

I am the slow, long-legged Sleepyman and I love you
sheep in Persia, California, Argentine, Australia, or
Spain--you are the thoughts that help me when I, the
Sleepyman, lay my hands on the eyelids of the children
of the world at eight o'clock every night--you thousands
and thousands of sheep in a procession of dusk making
an endless multitudinous drumming on the hills with
your hoofs.

 

Shirt

My shirt is a token and symbol,
more than a cover for sun and rain,
my shirt is a signal,
and a teller of souls.

I can take off my shirt and tear it,
and so make a ripping razzly noise,
and the people will say,
"Look at him tear his shirt."

I can keep my shirt on.
I can stick around and sing like a little bird
and look 'em all in the eye and never be fazed.
I can keep my shirt on.

 

Silver Nails

A man was crucified. He came to the city a stranger,
was accused, and nailed to a cross. He lingered hanging.
Laughed at the crowd. "The nails are iron," he
said, "You are cheap. In my country when we crucify
we use silver nails. . ." So he went jeering. They
did not understand him at first. Later they talked about
him in changed voices in the saloons, bowling alleys, and
churches. It came over them every man is crucified
only once in his life and the law of humanity dictates
silver nails be used for the job. A statue was erected
to him in a public square. Not having gathered his
name when he was among them, they wrote him as John
Silvernail on the statue.

 

Sixteen Months

On the lips of the child Janet float changing dreams.
It is a thin spiral of blue smoke,
A morning campfire at a mountain lake.

On the lips of the child Janet,
Wisps of haze on ten miles of corn,
Young light blue calls to young light gold of morning.

 

Sketch

The shadows of the ships
Rock on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Of the tardy and the soft inrolling tide.

A long brown bar at the dip of the sky
Puts an arm of sand in the span of salt.

The lucid and endless wrinkles
Draw in, lapse and withdraw.
Wavelets crumble and white spent bubbles
Wash on the floor of the beach.

Rocking on the crest
In the low blue lustre
Are the shadows of the ships.

 

Skyscraper

By day the skyscraper looms in the smoke and sun and
has a soul.
Prairie and valley, streets of the city, pour people into
it and they mingle among its twenty floors and are
poured out again back to the streets, prairies and
valleys.
It is the men and women, boys and girls so poured in and
out all day that give the building a soul of dreams
and thoughts and memories.
(Dumped in the sea or fixed in a desert, who would care
for the building or speak its name or ask a policeman
the way to it?)

Elevators slide on their cables and tubes catch letters and
parcels and iron pipes carry gas and water in and
sewage out.
Wires climb with secrets, carry light and carry words,
and tell terrors and profits and loves--curses of men
grappling plans of business and questions of women
in plots of love.

Hour by hour the caissons reach down to the rock of the
earth and hold the building to a turning planet.
Hour by hour the girders play as ribs and reach out and
hold together the stone walls and floors.

Hour by hour the hand of the mason and the stuff of the
mortar clinch the pieces and parts to the shape an
architect voted.
Hour by hour the sun and the rain, the air and the rust,
and the press of time running into centuries, play
on the building inside and out and use it.

Men who sunk the pilings and mixed the mortar are laid
in graves where the wind whistles a wild song
without words
And so are men who strung the wires and fixed the pipes
and tubes and those who saw it rise floor by floor.
Souls of them all are here, even the hod carrier begging
at back doors hundreds of miles away and the brick-
layer who went to state's prison for shooting another
man while drunk.
(One man fell from a girder and broke his neck at the
end of a straight plunge--he is here--his soul has
gone into the stones of the building.)

On the office doors from tier to tier--hundreds of names
and each name standing for a face written across
with a dead child, a passionate lover, a driving
ambition for a million dollar business or a lobster's
ease of life.

Behind the signs on the doors they work and the walls
tell nothing from room to room.
Ten-dollar-a-week stenographers take letters from
corporation officers, lawyers, efficiency engineers,
and tons of letters go bundled from the building to all
ends of the earth.
Smiles and tears of each office girl go into the soul of
the building just the same as the master-men who
rule the building.

Hands of clocks turn to noon hours and each floor
empties its men and women who go away and eat
and come back to work.
Toward the end of the afternoon all work slackens and
all jobs go slower as the people feel day closing on
them.
One by one the floors are emptied. . . The uniformed
elevator men are gone. Pails clang. . . Scrubbers
work, talking in foreign tongues. Broom and water
and mop clean from the floors human dust and spit,
and machine grime of the day.
Spelled in electric fire on the roof are words telling
miles of houses and people where to buy a thing for
money. The sign speaks till midnight.

Darkness on the hallways. Voices echo. Silence
holds. . . Watchmen walk slow from floor to floor
and try the doors. Revolvers bulge from their hip
pockets. . . Steel safes stand in corners. Money
is stacked in them.
A young watchman leans at a window and sees the lights
of barges butting their way across a harbor, nets of
red and white lanterns in a railroad yard, and a span
of glooms splashed with lines of white and blurs of
crosses and clusters over the sleeping city.
By night the skyscraper looms in the smoke and the stars
and has a soul.

 

Soiled Dove

Let us be honest; the lady was not a harlot until she
married a corporation lawyer who picked her from
a Ziegfeld chorus.
Before then she never took anybody's money and paid
for her silk stockings out of what she earned singing
and dancing.
She loved one man and he loved six women and the
game was changing her looks, calling for more and
more massage money and high coin for the beauty
doctors.
Now she drives a long, underslung motor car all by herself,
reads in the day's papers what her husband is
doing to the inter-state commerce commission, requires
a larger corsage from year to year, and wonders
sometimes how one man is coming along with
six women.

 

Soup

I saw a famous man eating soup.
I say he was lifting a fat broth
Into his mouth with a spoon.
His name was in the newspapers that day
Spelled out in tall black headlines
And thousands of people were talking about him.

When I saw him,
He sat bending his head over a plate
Putting soup in his mouth with a spoon.

 

Stars, Songs, Faces

Gather the stars if you wish it so.
Gather the songs and keep them.
Gather the faces of women.
Gather for keeping years and years.
And then . . .
Loosen your hands, let go and say goodby.
Let the stars and songs go.
Let the faces and years go.
Loosen your hands and say goodbye.

 

Statistics

Napoleon shifted,
Restless in the old sarcophagus
And murmured to a watchguard:
"Who goes there?"
"Twenty-one million men,
Soldiers, armies, guns,
Twenty-one million
Afoot, horseback,
In the air,
Under the sea."
And Napoleon turned to his sleep:
"It is not my world answering;
It is some dreamer who knows not
The world I marched in
From Calais to Moscow."
And he slept on
In the old sarcophagus
While the aeroplanes
Droned their motors
Between Napoleon's mausoleum
And the cool night stars.

 

Street Window

The pawn-shop man knows hunger,
And how far hunger has eaten the heart
Of one who comes with an old keepsake.
Here are wedding rings and baby bracelets,
Scarf pins and shoe buckles, jeweled garters,
Old-fashioned knives with inlaid handles,
Watches of old gold and silver,
Old coins worn with finger-marks.
They tell stories.

 

Style

Style--go ahead talking about style.
You can tell where a man gets his style just
as you can tell where Pavlowa got her legs
or Ty Cobb his batting eye.

Go on talking.
Only don't take my style away.
It's my face.
Maybe no good
but anyway, my face.
I talk with it, I sing with it, I see, taste and feel with it,
I know why I want to keep it.

Kill my style
and you break Pavlowa's legs,
and you blind Ty Cobb's batting eye

 

Subway

Down between the walls of shadow
Where the iron laws insist,
The hunger voices mock.

The worn wayfaring men
With the hunched and humble shoulders,
Throw their laughter into toil.

 

Summer Stars

Bend low again, night of summer stars.
So near you are, sky of summer stars,
So near, a long-arm man can pick off stars,
Pick off what he wants in the sky bowl,
So near you are, summer stars,
So near, strumming, strumming,
So lazy and hum-strumming.

 

Sunset From Omaha Hotel Window

Into the blue river hills
The red sun runners go
And the long sand changes
And to-day is a goner
And to-day is not worth haggling over.

Here in Omaha
The gloaming is bitter
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand changes.
To-day is a goner.
Time knocks in another brass nail.
Another yellow plunger shoots the dark.

Constellations
Wheeling over Omaha
As in Chicago
Or Kenosha.

The long sand is gone
and all the talk is stars.
They circle in a dome over Nebraska.

 

The Answer

You have spoken the answer.
A child searches far sometimes
Into the red dust
On a dark rose leaf
And so you have gone far
For the answer is:
Silence.

In the republic
Of the winking stars
and spent cataclysms
Sure we are it is off there the answer
is hidden and folded over,
Sleeping in the sun, careless whether
it is Sunday or any other day of
the week,

Knowing silence will bring all one way or another.

Have we not seen
Purple of the pansy
out of the mulch
and mold
crawl
into a dusk
of velvet?
blur of yellow?

Almost we thought from nowhere but it was the silence,
the future,
working.

 

The Great Hunt

I cannot tell you now;
When the winds drive and whirl
Blow me along no longer,
And the winds a whisper at last
Maybe Ill tell you then
some other time.

When the roses flash to the sunset
Reels to the rack and the twist,
And the rose is a red bygone,
When the face I love is going
And the gate to the end shall clang,
And its no use to beckon or say, So long
Maybe Ill tell you then
some other time.

I never knew any more beautiful than you:
I have hunted you under my thoughts,
I have broken down under the wind
And into the roses looking for you.
I shall never find any
greater than you.

 

The Hangman at Home

What does a hangman think about
When he goes home at night from work?
When he sits down with his wife and
Children for a cup of coffee and a
Plate of ham and eggs, do they ask
Him if it was a good day's work
And everything went well or do they
Stay off some topics and kill about
The weather, baseball, politics
And the comic strips in the papers
And the movies? Do they look at his
Hands when he reaches for the coffee
Or the ham and eggs? If the little
Ones say, Daddy, play horse, here's
A rope--does he answer like a joke:
I seen enough rope for today?
Or does his face light up like a
Bonfire of joy and does he say:
It's a good and dandy world we live
'In. And if a white face moon looks
In through a window where a baby girl
Sleeps and the moon-gleams mix with
Baby ears and baby hair--the hangman--
How does he act then? It must be easy
For him. Anything is easy for a hangman,
I guess.

 

The Harbor

Passing through huddled and ugly walls
By doorways where women
Looked from their hunger-deep eyes,
Haunted with shadows of hunger-hands,
Out from the huddled and ugly walls,
I came sudden, at the city's edge,
On a blue burst of lake,
Long lake waves breaking under the sun
On a spray-flung curve of shore;
And a fluttering storm of gulls,
Masses of great gray wings
And flying white bellies
Veering and wheeling free in the open.

 

The Has-Been

A stone face higher than six horses stood five thousand years gazing at the world seeming to clutch a secret.
A boy passes and throws a niggerhead that chips off the end of the nose from the stone face; he lets fly a mud ball that spatters the right eye and cheek of the old looker-on.
The boy laughs and goes whistling ee-ee-ee ee-ee-ee. The stone face stands silent, seeming to clutch a secret.

 

The Junk Man

I am glad God saw Death
And gave Death a job taking care of all who are tired of living:

When all the wheels in a clock are worn and slow and the connections loose
And the clock goes on ticking and telling the wrong time from hour to hour
And people around the house joke about what a bum clock it is,
How glad the clock is when the big Junk Man drives his wagon
Up to the house and puts his arms around the clock and says:
You dont belong here,
You gotta come
Along with me,
How glad the clock is then, when it feels the arms of the Junk Man close around it and carry it away.

 

The Mayor of Gary

I asked the mayor of Gary about the 12-hour day and the 7-day week.
And the mayor of Gary answered more workmen steal time on the job in Gary than any other place in the United States.
"Go into the plants and you will see men sitting around doing nothing--machinery does everything," said the mayor of Gary when I asked him about the 12-hour day and the 7-day week.
And he wore cool cream pants, the Mayor of Gary, and white shoes, and a barber had fixed him up with a shampoo and a shave and he was east and imperturbable though the government weather bureau thermometer said 96 and children were soaking their heads at bubbling fountains on the street corners.
And I said good-bye to the Mayor of Gary and I went out from the city hall and turned the corner into Broadway.
And I saw workmen wearing leather shoes scruffed with fire and cinders, and pitted with little holes from running molten steel,
And some had bunches of specialized muscles around their shoulder blades hard as pig iron, muscles of their forearms were sheet steel and they looked to me like men who had been somewhere.

 

The Mist

I am the mist, the impalpable mist,
Back of the thing you seek.
My arms are long,
Long as the reach of time and space.

Some toil and toil, believing,
Looking now and again on my face,
Catching a vital, olden glory.

But no one passes me,
I tangle and snare them all.
I am the cause of the Sphinx,
The voiceless, baffled, patient Sphinx.

I was at the first of things,
I will be at the last.
I am the primal mist
And no man passes me;
My long impalpable arms
Bar them all.

 

The Noon Hour

She sits in the dust at the walls
And makes cigars,
Bending at the bench
With fingers wage-anxious,
Changing her sweat for the days pay.

Now the noon hour has come,
And she leans with her bare arms
On the window-sill over the river,
Leans and feels at her throat
Cool-moving things out of the free open ways:

At her throat and eyes and nostrils
The touch and the blowing cool
Of great free ways beyond the walls.

 

The Red Son

I love your faces I saw the many years
I drank your milk and filled my mouth
With your home talk, slept in your house
And was one of you.
But a fire burns in my heart.
Under the ribs where pulses thud
And flitting between bones of skull
Is the push, the endless mysterious command,
Saying:
"I leave you behind--
You for the little hills and the years all alike,
You with your patient cows and old houses
Protected from the rain,
I am going away and I never come back to you;
Crags and high rough places call me,
Great places of death
Where men go empty handed
And pass over smiling
To the star-drift on the horizon rim.
My last whisper shall be alone, unknown;
I shall go to the city and fight against it,
And make it give me passwords
Of luck and love, women worth dying for,
And money.
I go where you wist not of
Nor I nor any man nor woman.
I only know I go to storms
Grappling against things wet and naked."
There is no pity of it and no blame.
None of us is in the wrong.
After all it is only this:
You for the little hills and I go away.

 

The Right To Grief

To Certain Poets About to Die

Take your fill of intimate remorse, perfumed sorrow,
Over the dead child of a millionaire,
And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank
Which the millionaire might order his secretary to
scratch off
And get cashed.

Very well,
You for your grief and I for mine.
Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.

I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky.
His job is sweeping blood off the floor.
He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works
And it's many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom
day by day.

Now his three year old daughter
Is in a white coffin that cost him a week's wages.
Every Saturday night he will pay the undertaker fifty
cents till the debt is wiped out.

The hunky and his wife and the kids
Cry over the pinched face almost at peace in the white box.

They remember it was scrawny and ran up high doctor bills.
They are glad it is gone for the rest of the family now
will have more to eat and wear.

Yet before the majesty of Death they cry around the coffin
And wipe their eyes with red bandanas and sob when
the priest says, "God have mercy on us all."

I have a right to feel my throat choke about this.
You take your grief and I mine--see?
To-morrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back
to his job sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar
seventy cents a day.
All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood
ahead of him with a broom.

 

The Road and the End

I shall foot it
Down the roadway in the dusk,
Where shapes of hunger wander
And the fugitives of pain go by.
I shall foot it
In the silence of the morning,
See the night slur into dawn,
Hear the slow great winds arise
Where tall trees flank the way
And shoulder toward the sky.

The broken boulders by the road
Shall not commemorate my ruin.
Regret shall be the gravel under foot.
I shall watch for
Slim birds swift of wing
That go where wind and ranks of thunder
Drive the wild processionals of rain.

The dust of the traveled road
Shall touch my hands and face.

 

The Shovel Man

On the street
Slung on his shoulder is a handle half way across,
Tied in a big knot on the scoop of cast iron
Are the overalls faded from sun and rain in the ditches;
Spatter of dry clay sticking yellow on his left sleeve
And a flimsy shirt open at the throat,
I know him for a shovel man,
A dago working for a dollar six bits a day
And a dark-eyed woman in the old country dreams of
him for one of the world's ready men with a pair
of fresh lips and a kiss better than all the wild
grapes that ever grew in Tuscany.

 

The Walking Man Of Rodin

Legs hold a torso away from the earth.
And a regular high poem of legs is here.
Powers of bone and cord raise a belly and lungs
Out of ooze and over the loam where eyes look and ears hear
And arms have a chance to hammer and shoot and run motors.
You make us
Proud of our legs, old man.

And you left off the head here,
The skull found always crumbling neighbor of the ankles.

 

The Year

I

A storm of white petals,
Buds throwing open baby fists
Into hands of broad flowers.

II

Red roses running upward,
Clambering to the clutches of life
Soaked in crimson.

III

Rabbles of tattered leaves
Holding golden flimsy hopes
Against the tramplings
Into the pits and gullies.

IV

Hoarfrost and silence:
Only the muffling
Of winds dark and lonesome--
Great lullabies to the long sleepers.

 

Theme in Yellow

I spot the hills
With yellow balls in autumn.
I light the prairie cornfields
Orange and tawny gold clusters
And I am called pumpkins.
On the last of October
When dusk is fallen
Children join hands
And circle round me
Singing ghost songs
And love to the harvest moon;
I am a jack-o'-lantern
With terrible teeth
And the children know
I am fooling.

 

They All Want to Play Hamlet

They all want to play Hamlet.
They have not exactly seen their fathers killed
Nor their mothers in a frame-up to kill,
Nor an Ophelia lying with dust gagging the heart,
Not exactly the spinning circles of singing golden spiders,
Not exactly this have they got at nor the meaning of flowers--O flowers, flowers slung by a dancing girl--in the saddest play the inkfish, Shakespeare ever wrote;
Yet they all want to play Hamlet because it is sad like all actors are sad and to stand by an open grave with a joker's skull in the hand and then to say over slow and over slow wise, keen, beautiful words asking the heart that's breaking, breaking,
This is something that calls and calls to their blood.
They are acting when they talk about it and they know it is acting to be particular about it and yet: They all want to play Hamlet.

 

They Will Say

Of my city the worst that men will ever say is this:
You took little children away from the sun and the dew,
And the glimmers that played in the grass under the great sky,
And the reckless rain; you put them between walls
To work, broken and smothered, for bread and wages,
To eat dust in their throats and die empty-hearted
For a little handful of pay on a few Saturday nights.

 

Threes

I was a boy when I heard three red words
a thousand Frenchmen died in the streets
for: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity--I asked
why men die for words.

I was older; men with mustaches, sideburns,
lilacs, told me the high golden words are:
Mother, Home, and Heaven--other older men with
face decorations said: God, Duty, Immortality
--they sang these threes slow from deep lungs.

Years ticked off their say-so on the great clocks
of doom and damnation, soup, and nuts: meteors flashed
their say-so: and out of great Russia came three
dusky syllables workmen took guns and went out to die
for: Bread, Peace, Land.

And I met a marine of the U.S.A., a leatherneck with a girl on his knee
for a memory in ports circling the earth and he said: Tell me how to say
three things and I always get by--gimme a plate of ham and eggs--how
much--and--do you love me, kid?

 

To A Contemporary Bunkshooter

You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . . yelling about
Jesus.
Where do you get that stuff?
What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
he never made any fake passes and everything
he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
over your lips. . . always blabbing we're all
going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I've read Jesus' words. I know what he said. You don't
throw any scare into me. I've got your number. I
know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
of the running.

I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
now lined up with you paying your way.

This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened
good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful
from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands
wherever he passed along.
You slimy bunkshooter, you put a smut on every human
blossom in reach of your rotten breath belching
about hell-fire and hiccupping about this Man who
lived a clean life in Galilee.

When are you going to quit making the carpenters build
emergency hospitals for women and girls driven
crazy with wrecked nerves from your gibberish about
Jesus--I put it to you again: Where do you get that
stuff; what do you know about Jesus?

Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash
a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance.
Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your
nutty head. If it wasn't for the way you scare the
women and kids I'd feel sorry for you and pass the hat.
I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when
he starts people puking and calling for the doctors.
I like a man that's got nerve and can pull off a great
original performance, but you--you're only a bug-
house peddler of second-hand gospel--you're only
shoving out a phoney imitation of the goods this
Jesus wanted free as air and sunlight.

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it
up all right with them by giving them mansions in
the skies after they're dead and the worms have
eaten 'em.
You tell $6 a week department store girls all they need
is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead without
having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of
age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross
and he'll be all right.
You tell poor people they don't need any more money
on pay day and even if it's fierce to be out of a job,
Jesus'll fix that up all right, all right--all they gotta
do is take Jesus the way you say.
I'm telling you Jesus wouldn't stand for the stuff you're
handing out. Jesus played it different. The bankers
and lawyers of Jerusalem got their sluggers and
murderers to go after Jesus just because Jesus
wouldn't play their game. He didn't sit in with
the big thieves.

I don't want a lot of gab from a bunkshooter in my religion.
I won't take my religion from any man who never works
except with his mouth and never cherishes any memory
except the face of the woman on the American
silver dollar.

I ask you to come through and show me where you're
pouring out the blood of your life.

I've been to this suburb of Jerusalem they call Golgotha,
where they nailed Him, and I know if the story is
straight it was real blood ran from His hands and
the nail-holes, and it was real blood spurted in red
drops where the spear of the Roman soldier rammed
in between the ribs of this Jesus of Nazareth.

 

To A Dead Man

Over the dead line we have called to you
To come across with a word to us,
Some beaten whisper of what happens
Where you are over the dead line
Deaf to our calls and voiceless.

The flickering shadows have not answered
Nor your lips sent a signal
Whether love talks and roses grow
And the sun breaks at morning
Splattering the sea with crimson.

 

To Beachey, 1912

Riding against the east,
A veering, steady shadow
Purrs the motor-call
Of the man-bird
Ready with the death-laughter
In his throat
And in his heart always
The love of the big blue beyond.

Only a man,
A far fleck of shadow on the east
Sitting at ease
With his hands on a wheel
And around him the large gray wings.
Hold him, great soft wings,
Keep and deal kindly, O wings,
With the cool, calm shadow at the wheel.

 

To Certain Journeymen

Undertakers, hearse drivers, grave diggers,
I speak to you as one not afraid of your business.

You handle dust going to a long country,
You know the secret behind your job is the same whether
you lower the coffin with modern, automatic machinery,
well-oiled and noiseless, or whether the
body is laid in by naked hands and then covered
by the shovels.

Your day's work is done with laughter many days of the year,
And you earn a living by those who say good-by today
in thin whispers.

 

Trafficker

Among the shadows where two streets cross,
A woman lurks in the dark and waits
To move on when a policeman heaves in view.
Smiling a broken smile from a face
Painted over haggard bones and desperate eyes,
All night she offers passers-by what they will
Of her beauty wasted, body faded, claims gone,
And no takers.

 

Troths

Yellow dust on a bumble
bee's wing,
Grey lights in a woman's
asking eyes,
Red ruins in the changing
sunset embers:
I take you and pile high
the memories.
Death will break her claws
on some I keep.

 

Two

Memory of you is . . . a blue spear of flower.
I cannot remember the name of it.
Alongside a bold dripping poppy is fire and silk.
And they cover you.

 

Two Neighbors

Faces of two eternities keep looking at me.
One is Omar Khayam and the red stuff
wherein men forget yesterday and to-morrow
and remember only the voices and songs,
the stories, newspapers and fights of today.
One is Louis Cornaro and a slim trick
of slow, short meals across slow, short years,
letting Death open the door only in slow, short inches.
I have a neighbor who swears by Omar.
I have a neighbor who swears by Cornaro.
Both are happy.
Faces of two eternities keep looking at me.
Let them look.

 

Under

I
I am the undertow
Washing tides of power
Battering the pillars
Under your things of high law.

II
I am a sleepless
Slowfaring eater,
Maker of rust and rot
In your bastioned fastenings,
Caissons deep.

III
I am the Law
Older than you
And your builders proud.

I am deaf
In all days
Whether you
Say "Yes" or "No".

I am the crumbler:
To-morrow.

 

Under A Hat Rim

While the hum and the hurry
Of passing footfalls
Beat in my ear like the restless surf
Of a wind-blown sea,
A soul came to me
Out of the look on a face.

Eyes like a lake
Where a storm-wind roams
Caught me from under
The rim of a hat.
I thought of a midsea wreck
and bruised fingers clinging
to a broken state-room door.

 

Under a Telephone Pole

I am a copper wire slung in the air,
Slim against the sun I make not even a clear line of shadow.
Night and day I keep singing--humming and thrumming:
It is love and war and money; it is the fighting and the
tears, the work and want,
Death and laughter of men and women passing through
me, carrier of your speech,
In the rain and the wet dripping, in the dawn and the
shine drying,
A copper wire.

 

Under the Harvest Moon

Under the harvest moon,
When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over the garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.

Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.

 

Uplands In May

Wonder as of old things
Fresh and fair come back
Hangs over pasture and road.
Lush in the lowland grasses rise
And upland beckons to upland.
The great strong hills are humble.

 

Upstairs

I too have a garret of old playthings.
I have tin soldiers with broken arms upstairs.
I have a wagon and the wheels gone upstairs.
I have guns and a drum, a jumping-jack and a magic lantern.
And dust is on them and I never look at them upstairs.
I too have a garret of old playthings.

 

Valley Song

Your eyes and the valley are memories.
Your eyes fire and the valley a bowl.
It was here a moonrise crept over the timberline.
It was here we turned the coffee cups upside down.
And your eyes and the moon swept the valley.

I will see you again to-morrow.
I will see you again in a million years.
I will never know your dark eyes again.
These are three ghosts I keep.
These are three sumach-red dogs I run with.

All of it wraps and knots to a riddle:
I have the moon, the timberline, and you.
All three are gone -- and I keep all three.

 

Waiting

Today I will let the old boat stand
Where the sweep of the harbor tide comes in
To the pulse of a far, deep-steady sway.
And I will rest and dream and sit on the deck
Watching the world go by
And take my pay for many hard days gone I remember.

I will choose what clouds I like
In the great white fleets that wander the blue
As I lie on my back or loaf at the rail.
And I will listen as the veering winds kiss me and fold me
And put on my brow the touch of the world's great will.

Daybreak will hear the heart of the boat beat,
Engine throb and piston play
In the quiver and leap at call of life.
To-morrow we move in the gaps and heights
On changing floors of unlevel seas
And no man shall stop us and no man follow
For ours is the quest of an unknown shore
And we are husky and lusty and shouting-gay.

 

Wars

In the old wars drum of hoofs and the beat of shod feet.
In the new wars hum of motors and the tread of rubber tires.
In the wars to come silent wheels and whirr of rods not
yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars clutches of short swords and jabs into
faces with spears.
In the new wars long range guns and smashed walls, guns
running a spit of metal and men falling in tens and
twenties.
In the wars to come new silent deaths, new silent hurlers
not yet dreamed out in the heads of men.

In the old wars kings quarreling and thousands of men
following.
In the new wars kings quarreling and millions of men
following.
In the wars to come kings kicked under the dust and
millions of men following great causes not yet
dreamed out in the heads of men.

 

White Shoulders

Your white shoulders
I remember
And your shrug of laughter.

Low laughter
Shaken slow
From your white shoulders.

 

Whitelight

Your whitelight flashes the frost to-night
Moon of the purple and silent west.
Remember me one of your lovers of dreams.

 

Who Am I?

My head knocks against the stars.
My feet are on the hilltops.
My finger-tips are in the valleys and shores of
universal life.
Down in the sounding foam of primal things I
reach my hands and play with pebbles of
destiny.
I have been to hell and back many times.
I know all about heaven, for I have talked with God.
I dabble in the blood and guts of the terrible.
I know the passionate seizure of beauty
And the marvelous rebellion of man at all signs
reading "Keep Off."
My name is Truth and I am the most elusive captive
in the universe.

 

Window

Night from a railroad car window
Is a great, dark, soft thing
Broken across with slashes of light

 

Woman With A Past

There was a woman tore off a red velvet gown
And slashed the white skin of her right shoulder
And a crimson zigzag wrote a finger nail hurry.

There was a woman spoke six short words
And quit a life that was old to her
For a life that was new.

There was a woman swore an oath
And gave hoarse whisper to a prayer
And it was all over.

She was a thief and a whore and a kept woman,
She was a thing to be used and played with.
She wore an ancient scarlet sash.

The story is thin and wavering,
White as a face in the first apple blossoms,
White as a birch in the snow of a winter moon.

The story is never told.
There are white lips whisper alone.
There are red lips whisper alone.

In the cool of the old walls,
In the white of the old walls,
The red song is over.

 

Women Washing Their Hair

They have painted and sung
the women washing their hair,
and the plaits and strands in the sun,
and the golden combs
and the combs of elephant tusks
and the combs of buffalo horn and hoof.

The sun has been good to women,
drying their heads of hair
as they stooped and shook their shoulders
and framed their faces with copper
and framed their eyes with dusk or chestnut.

The rain has been good to women.
If the rain should forget,
if the rain left off for a year
the heads of women would wither,
the copper, the dusk and chestnuts, go.

They have painted and sung
the women washing their hair
reckon the sun and rain in, too.

 

Work Gangs

Box cars run by a mile long.
And I wonder what they say to each other
When they stop a mile long on a sidetrack.
Maybe their chatter goes:
I came from Fargo with a load of wheat up to the danger line.
I came from Omaha with a load of shorthorns and they splintered my boards.
I came from Detroit heavy with a load of fivers.
I carried apples from the Hood river last year and this year bunches of bananas from Florida; they look for me with watermelons from Mississippi next year.

Hammers and shovels of work gangs sleep in shop corners
when the dark stars come on the sky and the night watchmen walk and look.

Then the hammer heads talk to the handles,
then the scoops of the shovels talk,
how the days work nicked and trimmed them,
how they swung and lifted all day,
how the hands of the work gangs smelled of hope.
In the night of the dark stars
when the curve of the sky is a work gang handle,
in the night on the mile long sidetracks,
in the night where the hammers and shovels sleep in corners,
the night watchmen stuff their pipes with dreams
and sometimes they doze and dont care for nothin,
and sometimes they search their heads for meanings, stories, stars.
The stuff of it runs like this:
A long way we come; a long way to go; long rests and long deep sniffs for our lungs on the way.
Sleep is a belonging of all; even if all songs are old songs and the singing heart is snuffed out like a switchmans lantern with the oil gone, even if we forget our names and houses in the finish, the secret of sleep is left us, sleep belongs to all, sleep is the first and last and best of all.

People singing; people with song mouths connecting with song hearts; people who must sing or die; people whose song hearts break if there is no song mouth; these are my people.

 

Working Girls

The working girls in the morning are going to work--
long lines of them afoot amid the downtown stores
and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped
lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.
Each morning as I move through this river of young-
woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
on them and laughter of red lips and memories in
their eyes of dances the night before and plays and
walks.
Green and gray streams run side by side in a river and
so here are always the others, those who have been
over the way, the women who know each one the
end of life's gamble for her, the meaning and the
clew, the how and the why of the dances and the
arms that passed around their waists and the fingers
that played in their hair.
Faces go by written over: "I know it all, I know where
the bloom and the laughter go and I have memories,"
and the feet of these move slower and they
have wisdom where the others have beauty.
So the green and the gray move in the early morning
on the downtown streets.

 

Young Bullfrogs

Jimmy Wimbleton listened a first week in June.
Ditches along prairie roads of Northern Illinois
Filled the arch of night with young bullfrog songs.
Infinite mathematical metronomic croaks rose and spoke,
Rose and sang, rose in a choir of puzzles.
They made his head ache with riddles of music.
They rested his head with beaten cadence.
Jimmy Wimbledon listened.

 

Young Sea

The sea is never still.
It pounds on the shore
Restless as a young heart,
Hunting.

The sea speaks
And only the stormy hearts
Know what it says:
It is the face
of a rough mother speaking.

The sea is young.
One storm cleans all the hoar
And loosens the age of it.
I hear it laughing, reckless.

They love the sea,
Men who ride on it
And know they will die
Under the salt of it

Let only the young come,
Says the sea.

Let them kiss my face
And hear me.
I am the last word
And I tell
Where storms and stars come from

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. . Poems Carl Sandburg
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