Every year Emily
Dickinson sent one friend
the first arbutus bud in her garden.
In a last will and testament Andrew Jackson
remembered a friend with the gift of George
Washington’s pocket spy-glass.
Napoleon too, in a last testament, mentioned a silver
watch taken from the bedroom of Frederick the Great,
and passed along this trophy to a particular friend.
O. Henry took a blood carnation from his coat lapel
and handed it to a country girl starting work in a
bean bazaar, and scribbled: “Peach blossoms may or
may not stay pink in city dust.”
So it goes. Some things we buy, some not.
Tom Jefferson was proud of his radishes, and Abe
Lincoln blacked his own boots, and Bismarck called
Berlin a wilderness of brick and newspapers.
So it goes. There are accomplished facts.
Ride, ride, ride on in the great new blimps—
Cross unheard-of oceans, circle the planet.
When you come back we may sit by five hollyhocks.
We might listen to boys fighting for marbles.
The grasshopper will look good to us.
So it goes …
Among the bumble-bees in red-top hay, a freckled field of brown-eyed Susans
dripping yellow leaves in July,
I read your heart in a book.
And your mouth of blue pansy—I know somewhere I have seen it rain-shattered.
And I have seen a woman with her head flung between her naked knees, and her
head held there listening to the sea, the great naked sea shouldering a load of
And the blue pansy mouth sang to the sea:
Mother of God, I’m so little a thing,
Let me sing longer,
Only a little longer.
The mare Alix breaks the world’s trotting record one day. I see her heels
flash down the dust of an Illinois race track on a summer afternoon. I see the
timekeepers put their heads together over stopwatches, and call to the grand
stand a split second is clipped off the old world’s record and a new world’s
I see the mare Alix led away by men in undershirts and streaked faces.
Dripping Alix in foam of white on the harness and shafts. And the men in
undershirts kiss her ears and rub her nose, and tie blankets on her, and take
her away to have the sweat sponged.
I see the grand stand jammed with prairie people yelling themselves hoarse.
Almost the grand stand and the crowd of thousands are one pair of legs and one
voice standing up and yelling hurrah.
I see the driver of Alix and the owner smothered in a fury of handshakes, a
mob of caresses. I see the wives of the driver and owner smothered in a crush of
white summer dresses and parasols.
Hours later, at sundown, gray dew creeping on the sod and sheds, I see Alix
Dark, shining-velvet Alix,
Night-sky Alix in a gray blanket,
Led back and forth by a nigger.
Velvet and night-eyed Alix
With slim legs of steel.
And I want to rub my nose against the nose of the mare Alix.
Close-mouthed you sat five thousand years and never let out a whisper.
Processions came by, marchers, asking questions you answered with grey eyes
never blinking, shut lips never talking.
Not one croak of anything you know has come from your cat crouch of ages.
I am one of those who know all you know and I keep my questions: I know the
answers you hold.
A Tall Man
The mouth of this man is a gaunt strong mouth.
The head of this man is a gaunt strong head.
The jaws of this man are bone of the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachians.
The eyes of this man are chlorine of two sobbing oceans,
Foam, salt, green, wind, the changing unknown.
The neck of this man is pith of buffalo prairie, old longing and new beckoning
of corn belt or cotton belt,
Either a proud Sequoia trunk of the wilderness
Or huddling lumber of a sawmill waiting to be a roof.
Brother mystery to man and mob mystery,
Brother cryptic to lifted cryptic hands,
He is night and abyss, he is white sky of sun, he is the head of the people.
The heart of him the red drops of the people,
The wish of him the steady gray-eagle crag-hunting flights of the people.
Humble dust of a wheel-worn road,
Slashed sod under the iron-shining plow,
These of service in him, these and many cities, many borders, many wrangles
between Alaska and the Isthmus, between the Isthmus and the Horn, and east and
west of Omaha, and east and west of Paris, Berlin, Petrograd.
The blood in his right wrist and the blood in his left wrist run with the right
wrist wisdom of the many and the left wrist wisdom of the many.
It is the many he knows, the gaunt strong hunger of the many.
A Teamster's Farewell
Good-by now to the streets and the clash of wheels and
The sun coming on the brass buckles and harness knobs.
The muscles of the horses sliding under their heavy
Good-by now to the traffic policeman and his whistle,
The smash of the iron hoof on the stones,
All the crazy wonderful slamming roar of the street--
O God, there's noises I'm going to be hungry for.
There will be a rusty gun on the wall, sweetheart,
The rifle grooves curling with flakes of rust.
A spider will make a silver string nest in the
darkest, warmest corner of it.
The trigger and the range-finder, they too will be rusty.
And no hands will polish the gun, and it will hang on the wall.
Forefingers and thumbs will point casually toward it.
It will be spoken among half-forgotten, whished-to-be-forgotten things.
They will tell the spider: Go on, you're doing good work.
All Day Long
All day long in fog and wind,
The waves have flung their beating crests
Against the palisades of adamant.
My boy, he went to sea, long and long ago,
Curls of brown were slipping underneath his cap,
He looked at me from blue and steely eyes;
Natty, straight and true, he stepped away,
My boy, he went to sea.
All day long in fog and wind,
The waves have flung their beating crests
Against the palisades of adamant.
They were calling certain styles of whiskers by the name of “lilacs.”
And another manner of beard assumed in their chatter a verbal guise
Of “mutton chops,” “galways,” “feather dusters.”
Metaphors such as these sprang from their lips while other street cries
Sprang from sparrows finding scattered oats among interstices of the curb.
Ah-hah these metaphors—and Ah-hah these boys—among the police they were known
As the Dirty Dozen and their names took the front pages of newspapers
And two of them croaked on the same day at a “necktie party” … if we employ the
metaphors of their lips.
Among the Red Guns
Among the red guns,
In the hearts of soldiers
Running free blood
In the long, long campaign:
Dreams go on.
Among the leather saddles,
In the heads of soldiers
Heavy in the wracks and kills
Of all straight fighting:
Dreams go on.
Among the hot muzzles,
In the hands of soldiers
Brought from flesh-folds of women--
Soft amid the blood and crying--
In all your hearts and heads
Among the guns and saddles and muzzles:
Dreams go on,
Out of the dead on their backs,
Broken and no use any more:
Dreams of the way and the end go on.
An Electric Sign Goes Dark
Poland, France, Judea ran in her veins,
Singing to Paris for bread, singing to Gotham in a fizz at the pop of a bottle’s
“Won’t you come and play wiz me” she sang … and “I just can’t make my eyes
“Higgeldy-Piggeldy,” “Papa’s Wife,” “Follow Me” were plays.
Did she wash her feet in a tub of milk? Was a strand of pearls sneaked from
her trunk? The newspapers asked.
Cigarettes, tulips, pacing horses, took her name.
Twenty years old … thirty … forty …
Forty-five and the doctors fathom nothing, the doctors quarrel, the doctors use
silver tubes feeding twenty-four quarts of blood into the veins, the respects of
a prize-fighter, a cab driver.
And a little mouth moans: It is easy to die when they are dying so many grand
deaths in France.
A voice, a shape, gone.
A baby bundle from Warsaw … legs, torso, head … on a hotel bed at The Savoy.
The white chiselings of flesh that flung themselves in somersaults, straddles,
for packed houses:
A memory, a stage and footlights out, an electric sign on Broadway dark.
She belonged to somebody, nobody.
No one man owned her, no ten nor a thousand.
She belonged to many thousand men, lovers of the white chiseling of arms and
shoulders, the ivory of a laugh, the bells of song.
Railroad brakemen taking trains across Nebraska prairies, lumbermen jaunting
in pine and tamarack of the Northwest, stock ranchers in the middle west, mayors
of southern cities
Say to their pals and wives now: I see by the papers Anna Held is dead.
And They Obey
Smash down the cities.
Knock the walls to pieces.
Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses
Into loose piles of stone and lumber and black
You are the soldiers and we command you.
Build up the cities.
Set up the walls again.
Put together once more the factories and cathedrals,
warehouses and homes
Into buildings for life and labor:
You are workmen and citizens all: We
And This Will Be All....
And this will be all?
And the gates will never open again?
And the dust and the wind will play around the rusty door hinges and the songs
of October moan, Why-oh, why-oh?
And you will look to the mountains
And the mountains will look to you
And you will wish you were a mountain
And the mountain will wish nothing at all?
This will be all?
The gates will never-never open again?
The dust and the wind only
And the rusty door hinges and moaning October
And Why-oh, why-oh, in the moaning dry leaves,
This will be all?
Nothing in the air but songs
And no singers, no mouths to know the songs?
You tell us a woman with a heartache tells you it is so?
This will be all?
Cross the hands over the breast here--so.
Straighten the legs a little more--so.
And call for the wagon to come and take her home.
Her mother will cry some and so will her sisters and
But all of the others got down and they are safe and
this is the only one of the factory girls who
wasn't lucky in making the jump when the fire broke.
It is the hand of God and the lack of fire escapes.
Aprons of Silence
Many things I might have said today.
And I kept my mouth shut.
So many times I was asked
To come and say the same things
Everybody was saying, no end
To the yes-yes, yes-yes,
The aprons of silence covered me.
A wire and hatch held my tongue.
I spit nails into an abyss and listened.
I shut off the gable of Jones, Johnson, Smith,
All whose names take pages in the city directory.
I fixed up a padded cell and lugged it around.
I locked myself in and nobody knew it.
Only the keeper and the kept in the hoosegow
Knew it--on the streets, in the post office,
On the cars, into the railroad station
Where the caller was calling, "All a-board,
All a-board for . . . Blaa-blaa . . . Blaa-blaa,
Blaa-blaa . . . and all points northwest . . .all a-board."
Here I took along my own hoosegow
And did business with my own thoughts.
Do you see? It must be the aprons of silence.
Arithmetic is where numbers fly like pigeons in and out of your
Arithmetic tell you how many you lose or win if you know how
many you had before you lost or won.
Arithmetic is seven eleven all good children go to heaven -- or five
six bundle of sticks.
Arithmetic is numbers you squeeze from your head to your hand
to your pencil to your paper till you get the answer.
Arithmetic is where the answer is right and everything is nice and
you can look out of the window and see the blue sky -- or the
answer is wrong and you have to start all over and try again
and see how it comes out this time.
If you take a number and double it and double it again and then
double it a few more times, the number gets bigger and bigger
and goes higher and higher and only arithmetic can tell you
what the number is when you decide to quit doubling.
Arithmetic is where you have to multiply -- and you carry the
multiplication table in your head and hope you won't lose it.
If you have two animal crackers, one good and one bad, and you
eat one and a striped zebra with streaks all over him eats the
other, how many animal crackers will you have if somebody
offers you five six seven and you say No no no and you say
Nay nay nay and you say Nix nix nix?
If you ask your mother for one fried egg for breakfast and she
gives you two fried eggs and you eat both of them, who is
better in arithmetic, you or your mother?
Three walls around the town of Tela when I came.
They expected everything of those walls;
Nobody in the town came out to kiss my feet.
I knocked the walls down, killed three thousand soldiers,
Took away cattle and sheep, took all the loot in sight,
And burned special captives.
Some of the soldiers—I cut off hands and feet.
Others—I cut off ears and fingers.
Some—I put out the eyes.
I made a pyramid of heads.
I strung heads on trees circling the town.
When I got through with it
There wasn’t much left of the town of Tela.
At a Window
Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!
But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts.
The field of cornflower yellow is a scarf at the neck of the copper
sunburned woman, the mother of the year, the taker of seeds.
The northwest wind comes and the yellow is torn full of holes,
new beautiful things come in the first spit of snow on the northwest wind,
and the old things go, not one lasts.
You came from the Aztecs
With a copper on your fore-arms
Tawnier than a sunset
Saying good-by to an even river.
And I said, you remember,
Those fore-arms of yours
Were finer than bronzes
And you were glad.
It was tears
And a path west
and a home-going
when I asked
Why there were scars of worn gold
Where a man’s ring was fixed once
On your third finger.
And I call you
To come back
before the days are longer.
I wanted a man’s face looking into the jaws and throat of life
With something proud on his face, so proud no smash of the jaws,
No gulp of the throat leaves the face in the end
With anything else than the old proud look:
Even to the finish, dumped in the dust,
Lost among the used-up cinders,
This face, men would say, is a flash,
Is laid on bones taken from the ribs of the earth,
Ready for the hammers of changing, changing years,
Ready for the sleeping, sleeping years of silence.
Ready for the dust and fire and wind.
I wanted this face and I saw it today in an Aztec mask.
A cry out of storm and dark, a red yell and a purple prayer,
A beaten shape of ashes
waiting the sunrise or night,
something or nothing,
White moon comes in on a baby face.
The shafts across her bed are flimmering.
Out on the land White Moon shines,
Shines and glimmers against gnarled shadows,
All silver to slow twisted shadows
Falling across the long road that runs from the house.
Keep a little of your beauty
And some of your flimmering silver
For her by the window to-night
Where you come in, White Moon.
There is a blue star, Janet,
Fifteen years’ ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.
There is a white star, Janet,
Forty years’ ride from us,
If we ride a hundred miles an hour.
Shall we ride
To the blue star
Or the white star?
Baby vamps, is it harder work than it used to be?
Are the new soda parlors worse than the old time saloons?
Baby vamps, do you have jobs in the day time or is this all you do? do you come
out only at night?
In the winter at the skating rinks, in the summer at the roller coaster parks,
Wherever figure eights are carved, by skates in winter, by roller coasters in
Wherever the whirligigs are going and chicken spanish and hot dog are sold,
There you come, giggling baby vamp, there you come with your blue baby eyes,
Shine on, O moon of summer.
Shine to the leaves of grass, catalpa and oak,
All silver under your rain to-night.
An Italian boy is sending songs to you to-night from an accordion.
A Polish boy is out with his best girl; they marry next month; to-night they are
throwing you kisses.
An old man next door is dreaming over a sheen that sits in a cherry tree in
his back yard.
The clocks say I must go—I stay here sitting on the back porch drinking white
thoughts you rain down.
Shine on, O moon,
Shake out more and more silver changes.
The Balloons hang on wires in the Marigold Gardens.
They spot their yellow and gold, they juggle their blue and red, they float
their faces on the face of the sky.
Balloon face eaters sit by hundreds reading the eat cards, asking, “What shall
we eat?”—and the waiters, “Have you ordered?” they are sixty balloon faces
sifting white over the tuxedoes.
Poets, lawyers, ad men, mason contractors, smartalecks discussing “educated
jackasses,” here they put crabs into their balloon faces.
Here sit the heavy balloon face women lifting crimson lobsters into their
crimson faces, lobsters out of Saragossa sea bottoms.
Here sits a man cross-examining a woman, “Where were you last night? What do you
do with all your money? Who’s buying your shoes now, anyhow?”
So they sit eating whitefish, two balloon faces swept on God’s night wind.
And all the time the balloon spots on the wires, a little mile of festoons, they
play their own silence play of film yellow and film gold, bubble blue and bubble
The wind crosses the town, the wind from the west side comes to the banks of
marigolds boxed in the Marigold Gardens.
Night moths fly and fix their feet in the leaves and eat and are seen by the
The jazz outfit sweats and the drums and the saxophones reach for the ears of
The chorus brought from Broadway works at the fun and the slouch of their
shoulders, the kick of their ankles, reach for the eyes of the eaters.
These girls from Kokomo and Peoria, these hungry girls, since they are paid-for,
let us look on and listen, let us get their number.
Why do I go again to the balloons on the wires, something for nothing, kin
women of the half-moon, dream women?
And the half-moon swinging on the wind crossing the town—these two, the
half-moon and the wind—this will be about all, this will be about all.
Eaters, go to it; your mazuma pays for it all; it’s a knockout, a classy
knockout—and payday always comes.
Baltic Fog Notes
Seven days all fog, all mist, and the turbines pounding through high seas.
I was a plaything, a rat’s neck in the teeth of a scuffling mastiff.
Fog and fog and no stars, sun, moon.
Then an afternoon in fjords, low-lying lands scrawled in granite languages on a
A night harbor, blue dusk mountain shoulders against a night sky,
And a circle of lights blinking: Ninety thousand people here.
Among the Wednesday night thousands in goloshes and coats slickered for rain,
I learned how hungry I was for streets and people.
I would rather be water than anything else.
I saw a drive of salt fog and mist in the North Atlantic and an iceberg dusky as
a cloud in the gray of morning.
And I saw the dream pools of fjords in Norway … and the scarf of dancing water
on the rocks and over the edges of mountain shelves.
Bury me in a mountain graveyard in Norway.
Three tongues of water sing around it with snow from the mountains.
Bury me in the North Atlantic.
A fog there from Iceland will be a murmur in gray over me and a long deep wind
Bury me in an Illinois cornfield.
The blizzards loosen their pipe organ voluntaries in winter stubble and the
spring rains and the fall rains bring letters from the sea.
Band concert public square Nebraska city. Flowing and circling dresses,
summer-white dresses. Faces, flesh tints flung like sprays of cherry blossoms.
And gigglers, God knows, gigglers, rivaling the pony whinnies of the Livery
Cowboy rags and nigger rags. And boys driving sorrel horses hurl a cornfield
laughter at the girls in dresses, summer-white dresses. Amid the cornet staccato
and the tuba oompa, gigglers, God knows, gigglers daffy with life’s razzle
Slow good-night melodies and Home Sweet Home. And the snare drummer
bookkeeper in a hardware store nods hello to the daughter of a railroad
conductor—a giggler, God knows, a giggler—and the summer-white dresses filter
fanwise out of the public square.
The crushed strawberries of ice cream soda places, the night wind in
cottonwoods and willows, the lattice shadows of doorsteps and porches, these
know more of the story.
Five geese deploy mysteriously.
Onward proudly with flagstaffs,
Hearses with silver bugles,
Bushes of plum-blossoms dropping
For ten mystic web-feet--
Each his own drum-major,
Each charged with the honor
Of the ancient goose nation,
Each with a nose-length surpassing
The nose-lengths of rival nations.
Somberly, slowly, unimpeachably,
Five geese deploy mysteriously.
A man saw the whole world as a grinning skull and cross-bones. The rose flesh
of life shriveled from all faces. Nothing counts. Everything is a fake. Dust to
dust and ashes to ashes and then an old darkness and a useless silence. So he
saw it all. Then he went to a Mischa Elman concert. Two hours waves of sound
beat on his eardrums. Music washed something or other inside him. Music broke
down and rebuilt something or other in his head and heart. He joined in five
encores for the young Russian Jew with the fiddle. When he got outside his heels
hit the sidewalk a new way. He was the same man in the same world as before.
Only there was a singing fire and a climb of roses everlastingly over the world
he looked on.
Between Two Hills
Between two hills
The old town stands.
The houses loom
And the roofs and trees
And the dusk and the dark,
The damp and the dew
The prayers are said
And the people rest
For sleep is there
And the touch of dreams
Is over all.
Why shall I keep the old name?
What is a name anywhere anyway?
A name is a cheap thing all fathers and mothers leave each child:
A job is a job and I want to live, so
Why does God Almighty or anybody else care whether I take a new name to go by?
Blue Island Intersection
Six streets come together here.
They feed people and wagons into the center.
In and out all day horses with thoughts of nose-bags,
Men with shovels, women with baskets and baby-buggies.
Six ends of streets and no sleep for them all day.
The people and wagons come and go, out and in.
Triangles of banks and drug stores watch.
The policemen whistle, the trolly cars bump:
Wheels, wheels, feet, feet, all day.
In the false dawn when the chickens blink
And the east shakes a lazy baby toe at tomorrow,
And the east fixes a lazy pink half-eye this way,
In the time when only one milk wagon crosses
These three streets, these six street ends,
It is the sleep time and they rest.
The triangle banks and the drug stores rest.
The policeman is gone, his star and gun sleep.
The owl car blutters along in a sleep walk.
I waited today for a freight train to pass.
Cattle cars with steers butting their horns against the
bars, went by.
And a half a dozen hoboes stood on bumpers between
Well, the cattle are respectable, I thought.
Every steer has its transportation paid for by the farmer
sending it to market,
While the hoboes are law-breakers in riding a railroad
train without a ticket.
It reminded me of ten days I spent in the Allegheny
County jail in Pittsburgh.
I got ten days even though I was a veteran of the
Cooped in the same cell with me was an old man, a
bricklayer and a booze-fighter.
But it just happened he, too, was a veteran soldier, and
he had fought to preserve the Union and free the
We were three in all, the other being a Lithuanian who
got drunk on pay day at the steel works and got to
fighting a policeman;
All the clothes he had was a shirt, pants and shoes--
somebody got his hat and coat and what money he
had left over when he got drunk.
Sling me under the sea.
Pack me down in the salt and wet.
No farmer’s plow shall touch my bones.
No Hamlet hold my jaws and speak
How jokes are gone and empty is my mouth.
Long, green-eyed scavengers shall pick my eyes,
Purple fish play hide-and-seek,
And I shall be song of thunder, crash of sea,
Down on the floors of salt and wet.
Sling me … under the sea
I thought of killing myself because I am only a bricklayer
and you a woman who loves the man who runs a drug store.
I don't care like I used to; I lay bricks straighter than I
used to and I sing slower handling the trowel afternoons.
When the sun is in my eyes and the ladders are shaky and the
mortar boards go wrong, I think of you.
Cover me over
In dusk and dust and dreams.
Cover me over
And leave me alone.
Cover me over,
You tireless, great.
Hear me and cover me,
Bringers of dusk and dust and dreams.
I shall never forget you, Broadway
Your golden and calling lights.
I’ll remember you long,
Tall-walled river of rush and play.
Hearts that know you hate you
And lips that have given you laughter
Have gone to their ashes of life and its roses,
Cursing the dreams that were lost
In the dust of your harsh and trampled stones.
Have I broken the smaller tabernacles, O Lord?
And in the destruction of these set up the greater and massive, the everlasting
I know nothing today, what I have done and why, O Lord, only I have broken and
They were beautiful in a way, these tabernacles torn down by strong hands
They were beautiful—why did the hypocrites carve their own names on the
corner-stones? why did the hypocrites keep on singing their own names in their
long noses every Sunday in these tabernacles?
Who lays any blame here among the split cornerstones?
The bronze General Grant riding a bronze horse in Linc-
Shrivels in the sun by day when the motor cars whirr
by in long processions going somewhere to keep ap-
pointment for dinner and matinees and buying and
Though in the dusk and nightfall when high waves are
On the slabs of the promenade along the lake shore near
I have seen the general dare the combers come closer
And make to ride his bronze horse out into the hoofs
and guns of the storm.
I cross Lincoln Park on a winter night when the snow
Lincoln in bronze stands among the white lines of snow,
his bronze forehead meeting soft echoes of the new-
sies crying forty thousand men are dead along the
Yser, his bronze ears listening to the mumbled roar
of the city at his bronze feet.
A lithe Indian on a bronze pony, Shakespeare seated with
long legs in bronze, Garibaldi in a bronze cape, they
hold places in the cold, lonely snow to-night on their
pedestals and so they will hold them past midnight
and into the dawn.
I have been watching the war map slammed up for advertising in front of the
Buttons—red and yellow buttons—blue and black buttons—are shoved back and forth
across the map.
A laughing young man, sunny with freckles,
Climbs a ladder, yells a joke to somebody in the crowd,
And then fixes a yellow button one inch west
And follows the yellow button with a black button one inch west.
(Ten thousand men and boys twist on their bodies in a red soak along a river
Gasping of wounds, calling for water, some rattling death in their throats.)
Who would guess what it cost to move two buttons one inch on the war map here in
front of the newspaper office where the freckle-faced young man is laughing to
There's Chamfort. He’s a sample.
Locked himself in his library with a gun,
Shot off his nose and shot out his right eye.
And this Chamfort knew how to write
And thousands read his books on how to live,
But he himself didn’t know
How to die by force of his own hand—see?
They found him a red pool on the carpet
Cool as an April forenoon,
Talking and talking gay maxims and grim epigrams.
Well, he wore bandages over his nose and right eye,
Drank coffee and chatted many years
With men and women who loved him
Because he laughed and daily dared Death:
“Come and take me.”
Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders:
They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps
luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the
faces of women and children I have seen the marks
of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who
sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer
and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing
so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on
job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the
little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning
as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has
never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse,
and under his ribs the heart of the people,
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of
Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog
Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with
Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.
I saluted a nobody.
I saw him in a looking-glass.
He smiled--so did I.
He crumpled the skin on his forehead, frowning--so did I.
Everything I did he did.
I said, "Hello, I know you."
And I was a liar to say so.
Ah, this. looking-glass man!
Liar, fool, dreamer, play-actor,
Soldier, dusty drinker of dust--
Ah! he will go with me
Down the dark stairway
When nobody else is looking,
When everybody else is gone.
He locks his elbow in mine,
I lose all--but not him.
The young child, Christ, is straight and wise
And asks questions of the old men, questions
Found under running water for all children
And found under shadows thrown on still waters
By tall trees looking downward, old and gnarled.
Found to the eyes of children alone, untold,
Singing a low song in the loneliness.
And the young child, Christ, goes on asking
And the old men answer nothing and only know love
For the young child. Christ, straight and wise.
The child's wonder
At the old moon
Comes back nightly.
She points her finger
To the far silent yellow thing
Shining through the branches
Filtering on the leaves a golden sand,
Crying with her little tongue, “See the moon!”
And in her bed fading to sleep
With babblings of the moon on her little mouth.
Child of the Romans
The dago shovelman sits by the railroad track
Eating a noon meal of bread and bologna.
A train whirls by, and men and women at tables
Alive with red roses and yellow jonquils,
Eat steaks running with brown gravy,
Strawberries and cream, eclaires and coffee.
The dago shovelman finishes the dry bread and bologna,
Washes it down with a dipper from the water-boy,
And goes back to the second half of a ten-hour day’s work
Keeping the road-bed so the roses and jonquils
Shake hardly at all in the cut glass vases
Standing slender on the tables in the dining cars
They offer you many things,
I a few.
Moonlight on the play of fountains at night
With water sparkling a drowsy monotone,
Bare-shouldered, smiling women and talk
And a cross-play of loves and adulteries
And a fear of death
and a remembering of regrets:
All this they offer you.
I come with:
salt and bread
a terrible job of work
and tireless war;
Come and have now:
Clark Street Bridge
Dust of the feet
And dust of the wheels,
Wagons and people going,
All day feet and wheels.
Now. . .
. . Only stars and mist
A lonely policeman,
Two cabaret dancers,
Stars and mist again,
No more feet or wheels,
No more dust and wagons.
Voices of dollars
And drops of blood
. . . . .
Voices of broken hearts,
. . Voices singing, singing,
. . Silver voices, singing,
Softer than the stars,
Softer than the mist.
When Abraham Lincoln was shoveled into the tombs he forgot
the copperheads and the assassin . . . in the dust, in the
And Ulysses Grant lost all thought of con men and Wall Street,
cash and collateral turned ashes . . . in the dust, in the
Pocahontas' body, lovely as a poplar, sweet as a red haw in
November or a pawpaw in May, did she wonder? does she
remember? . . . in the dust, in the cool tombs?
Take any streetful of people buying clothes and groceries,
cheering a hero or throwing confetti and blowing tin
horns . . . tell me if the lovers are losers . . . tell me if any
get more than the lovers . . . in the dust . . . in the cool
Crimson is the slow smolder of the cigar end I hold,
Gray is the ash that stiffens and covers all silent the fire.
(A great man I know is dead and while he lies in his coffin a gone flame I sit
here in cumbering shadows and smoke and watch my thoughts come and go.)
Once when I saw a cripple
Gasping slowly his last days with the white plague,
Looking from hollow eyes, calling for air,
Desperately gesturing with wasted hands
In the dark and dust of a house down in a slum,
I said to myself
I would rather have been a tall sunflower
Living in a country garden
Lifting a golden-brown face to the summer,
Rain-washed and dew-misted,
Mixed with the poppies and ranking hollyhocks,
And wonderingly watching night after night
The clear silent processionals of stars.
Hot gold runs a winding stream on the inside of a green bowl.
Yellow trickles in a fan figure, scatters a line of skirmishes, spreads a
of dancing girls, performs blazing ochre evolutions, gathers the whole show into
one stream, forgets the past and rolls on.
The sea-mist green of the bowl's bottom is a dark throat of sky crossed by
quarreling forks of umber and ochre and yellow changing faces.
Storms have beaten on this point of land
And ships gone to wreck here
and the passers-by remember it
with talk on the deck at night
as they near it.
Fists have beaten on the face of this old prize-fighter
And his battles have held the sporting pages
and on the street they indicate him with their
right fore-finger as one who once wore
a championship belt.
A hundred stories have been published and a thousand rumored
About why this tall dark man has divorced two beautiful
And married a third who resembles the first two
and they shake their heads and say, "There he
when he passes by in sunny weather or in rain
along the city streets.
Death Snips Proud Men
Death is stronger than all the governments because
the governments are men and men die and then
death laughs: Now you see 'em, now you don't.
Death is stronger than all proud men and so death
snips proud men on the nose, throws a pair of
dice and says: Read 'em and weep.
Death sends a radiogram every day: When I want
you I'll drop in--and then one day he comes with a
master-key and lets himself in and says: We'll
Death is a nurse mother with big arms: 'Twon't hurt
you at all; it's your time now; just need a
long sleep, child; what have you had anyhow
better than sleep?
By the teeming docks,
I watch the ships put out.
Black ships that heave and lunge
And move like mastodons
Arising from lethargic sleep.
The fathomed harbor
Calls them not nor dares
Them to a strain of action,
But outward, on and outward,
Sounding low-reverberating calls,
Shaggy in the half-lit distance,
They pass the pointed headland,
View the wide, far-lifting wilderness
And leap with cumulative speed
To test the challenge of the sea.
Doggedly onward plunging,
Into salt and mist and foam and sun.
You will come one day in a waver of love,
Tender as dew, impetuous as rain,
The tan of the sun will be on your skin,
The purr of the breeze in your murmuring speech,
You will pose with a hill-flower grace.
You will come, with your slim, expressive arms,
A poise of the head no sculptor has caught
And nuances spoken with shoulder and neck,
Your face in a pass-and-repass of moods
As many as skies in delicate change
Of cloud and blue and flimmering sun.
You may not come, O girl of a dream,
We may but pass as the world goes by
And take from a look of eyes into eyes,
A film of hope and a memoried day.
Dreams in the Dusk
Dreams in the dusk,
Only dreams closing the day
And with the day’s close going back
To the gray things, the dark things,
The far, deep things of dreamland.
Dreams, only dreams in the dusk,
Only the old remembered pictures
Of lost days when the day’s loss
Wrote in tears the heart’s loss.
Tears and loss and broken dreams
May find your heart at dusk.
What do we see here in the sand dunes of the white moon alone with our
Alone with our dreams, Bill, soft as the women tying scarves around their heads
Alone with a picture and a picture coming one after the other of all the dead,
The dead more than all these grains of sand one by one piled here in the moon,
Piled against the sky-line taking shapes like the hand of the wind wanted,
What do we see here, Bill, outside of what the wise men beat their heads on,
Outside of what the poets cry for and the soldiers drive on headlong and leave
their skulls in the sun for—what, Bill?
Here is dust remembers it was a rose
one time and lay in a woman's hair.
Here is dust remembers it was a woman
one time and in her hair lay a rose.
Oh things one time dust, what else now is it
you dream and remember of old days?
Child of the Aztec gods,
how long must we listen here,
how long before we go?
The dust is deep on the lintels.
The dust is dark on the doors.
If the dreams shake our bones,
what can we say or do?
Since early morning we waited.
Since early, early morning, child.
There must be dreams on the way now.
There must be a song for our bones.
The dust gets deeper and darker.
Do the doors and lintels shudder?
How long must we listen here?
How long before we go?
I sat with a dynamiter at supper in a German saloon eating steak and onions.
And he laughed and told stories of his wife and children and the cause of labor
and the working class.
It was laughter of an unshakable man knowing life to be a rich and red-blooded
Yes, his laugh rang like the call of gray birds filled with a glory of joy
ramming their winged flight through a rain storm.
His name was in many newspapers as an enemy of the nation and few keepers of
churches or schools would open their doors to him.
Over the steak and onions not a word was said of his deep days and nights as a
Only I always remember him as a lover of life, a lover of children, a lover of
all free, reckless laughter everywhere—lover of red hearts and red blood the
Eleventh Avenue Racket
There is something terrible
about a hurdy-gurdy,
a gipsy man and woman,
and a monkey in red flannel
all stopping in front of a big house
with a sign “For Rent” on the door
and the blinds hanging loose
and nobody home.
I never saw this.
I hope to God I never will.
Nobody home? Everybody home.
Mamie Riley married Jimmy Higgins last night: Eddie Jones died of whooping
cough: George Hacks got a job on the police force: the Rosenheims bought a brass
bed: Lena Hart giggled at a jackie: a pushcart man called tomaytoes, tomaytoes.
Nobody home? Everybody home.
What is the name you called me?--
And why did you go so soon?
The crows lift their caws on the wind,
And the wind changed and was lonely.
The warblers cry thier sleepy-songs
Across the valley gloaming,
Across the cattle-horns of early stars.
Feathers and people in the crotch of a treetop
Throw an evening waterfall of sleepy-songs.
What is the name you called me?--
And why did you go so soon?
I drank musty ale at the Illinois Athletic Club with
the millionaire manufacturer of Green River butter
And his face had the shining light of an old-time Quaker,
he spoke of a beautiful daughter, and I knew he had
a peace and a happiness up his sleeve somewhere.
Then I heard Jim Kirch make a speech to the Advertising
Association on the trade resources of South America.
And the way he lighted a three-for-a-nickel stogie and
cocked it at an angle regardless of the manners of
our best people,
I knew he had a clutch on a real happiness even though
some of the reporters on his newspaper say he is
the living double of Jack London's Sea Wolf.
In the mayor's office the mayor himself told me he was
happy though it is a hard job to satisfy all the office-
seekers and eat all the dinners he is asked to eat.
Down in Gilpin Place, near Hull House, was a man with
his jaw wrapped for a bad toothache,
And he had it all over the butter millionaire, Jim Kirch
and the mayor when it came to happiness.
He is a maker of accordions and guitars and not only
makes them from start to finish, but plays them
after he makes them.
And he had a guitar of mahogany with a walnut bottom
he offered for seven dollars and a half if I wanted it,
And another just like it, only smaller, for six dollars,
though he never mentioned the price till I asked him,
And he stated the price in a sorry way, as though the
music and the make of an instrument count for a
million times more than the price in money.
I thought he had a real soul and knew a lot about God.
There was light in his eyes of one who has conquered
sorrow in so far as sorrow is conquerable or worth
Anyway he is the only Chicago citizen I was jealous of
He played a dance they play in some parts of Italy
when the harvest of grapes is over and the wine
presses are ready for work.
I will read ashes for you, if you ask me.
I will look on the fire and tell you from the gray lashes
And out of the red and black tongues and stripes,
I will tell how fire comes
And how fire runs far as the sea.
I know a Jew fish crier down on Maxwell Street with a voice like a north wind
blowing over corn stubble in January.
He dangles herring before prospective customers evincing a joy identical with
that of Pavlowa dancing.
His face is that of a man terribly glad to be selling fish, terribly glad that
God made fish, and customers to whom he may call his wares, from a pushcart.
Flanders, the name of a place, a country of people,
Spells itself with letters, is written in books.
"Where is Flanders?" was asked one time,
Flanders known only to those who lived there
And milked cows and made cheese and spoke the home language.
"Where is Flanders?" was asked.
And the slang adepts shot the reply: Search me.
A few thousand people milking cows, raising radishes,
On a land of salt grass and dunes, sand-swept with a sea-breath on it:
This was Flanders, the unknown, the quiet,
The place where cows hunted lush cuds of green on lowlands,
And the raw-boned plowmen took horses with long shanks
Out in the dawn to the sea-breath.
Flanders sat slow-spoken amid slow-swung windmills,
Slow-circling windmill arms turning north or west,
Turning to talk to the swaggering winds, the childish winds,
So Flanders sat with the heart of a kitchen girl
Washing wooden bowls in the winter sun by a window.
Sand of the sea runs red
Where the sunset reaches and quivers.
Sand of the sea runs yellow
Where the moon slants and wavers.
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
Rings of iron gray smoke; a woman’s steel face … looking … looking.
Funnels of an ocean liner negotiating a fog night; pouring a taffy mass down the
wind; layers of soot on the top deck; a taffrail … and a woman’s steel face …
looking … looking.
Cliffs challenge humped; sudden arcs form on a gull’s wing in the storm’s
vortex; miles of white horses plow through a stony beach; stars, clear sky, and
everywhere free climbers calling; and a woman’s steel face … looking … looking …
The blossoms of lilac,
The atoms of purple.
Green dip the leaves,
Darker the bark,
Longer the shadows.
Sheer lines of poplar
Shimmer with masses of silver
And down in a garden old with years
And broken walls of ruin and story,
Roses rise with red rain-memories.
In the open world
The sun comes and finds your face,
From the Shore
A lone gray bird,
Alone in the shadows and grandeurs and tumults
Of night and the sea
And the stars and storms.
Out over the darkness it wavers and hovers,
Out into the gloom it swings and batters,
Out into the wind and the rain and the vast,
Out into the pit of a great black world,
Where fogs are at battle, sky-driven, sea-blown,
Love of mist and rapture of flight,
Glories of chance and hazards of death
On its eager and palpitant wings.
Out into the deep of the great dark world,
Beyond the long borders where foam and drift
Of the sundering waves are lost and gone
On the tides that plunge and rear and crumble.
Everybody loved Chick Lorimer in our town.
Everybody loved her.
So we all love a wild girl keeping a hold
On a dream she wants.
Nobody knows now where Chick Lorimer went.
Nobody knows why she packed her trunk .. a few old things
And is gone,
Gone with her little chin
Thrust ahead of her
And her soft hair blowing careless
From under a wide hat,
Dancer, singer, a laughing passionate lover.
Were there ten men or a hundred hunting Chick?
Were there five men or fifty with aching hearts?
Everybody loved Chick Lorimer.
Nobody knows where she’s gone.
Many ways to say good night.
Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July
spell it with red wheels and yellow spokes.
They fizz in the air, touch the water and quit.
Rockets make a trajectory of gold-and-blue
and then go out.
Railroad trains at night spell with a smokestack mushrooming a white pillar.
Steamboats turn a curve in the Mississippi crying a baritone that crosses
lowland cottonfields to razorback hill.
It is easy to spell good night.
Many ways to spell good night.
The Government -- I heard about the Government and
I went out to find it. I said I would look closely at
it when I saw it.
Then I saw a policeman dragging a drunken man to
the callaboose. It was the Government in action.
I saw a ward alderman slip into an office one morning
and talk with a judge. Later in the day the judge
dismissed a case against a pickpocket who was a
live ward worker for the alderman. Again I saw
this was the Government, doing things.
I saw militiamen level their rifles at a crowd of
workingmen who were trying to get other workingmen
to stay away from a shop where there was a strike
on. Government in action.
Everywhere I saw that Government is a thing made of
men, that Government has blood and bones, it is
many mouths whispering into many ears, sending
telegrams, aiming rifles, writing orders, saying
"yes" and "no."
Government dies as the men who form it die and are laid
away in their graves and the new Government that
comes after is human, made of heartbeats of blood,
ambitions, lusts, and money running through it all,
money paid and money taken, and money covered
up and spoken of with hushed voices.
A Government is just as secret and mysterious and sensitive
as any human sinner carrying a load of germs,
traditions and corpuscles handed down from
fathers and mothers away back.
Tomb of a millionaire,
A multi-millionaire, ladies and gentlemen,
Place of the dead where they spend every year
The usury of twenty-five thousand dollars
For upkeep and flowers
To keep fresh the memory of the dead.
The merchant prince gone to dust
Commanded in his written will
Over the signed name of his last testament
Twenty-five thousand dollars be set aside
For roses, lilacs, hydrangeas, tulips,
For perfume and color, sweetness of remembrance
Around his last long home.
(A hundred cash girls want nickels to go to the movies to-night.
In the back stalls of a hundred saloons, women are at tables
Drinking with men or waiting for men jingling loose silver dollars in their
In a hundred furnished rooms is a girl who sells silk or dress goods or leather
stuff for six dollars a week wages
And when she pulls on her stockings in the morning she is reckless about God and
the newspapers and the police, the talk of her home town or the name people call
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo.
Shovel them under and let me work--
I am the grass; I cover all.
And pile them high at Gettysburg
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.
Shovel them under and let me work.
Two years, ten years, and the passengers ask the conductor:
What place is this?
Where are we now?
I am the grass.
Let me work.
I dreamed one man stood against a thousand,
One man damned as a wrongheaded fool.
One year and another he walked the streets,
And a thousand shrugs and hoots
Met him in the shoulders and mouths he passed.
He died alone.
And only the undertaker came to his funeral.
Flowers grow over his grave anod in the wind,
And over the graves of the thousand, too,
The flowers grow anod in the wind.
Flowers and the wind,
Flowers anod over the graves of the dead,
Petals of red, leaves of yellow, streaks of white,
Masses of purple sagging…
I love you and your great way of forgetting.
I asked a gypsy pal
To imitate an old image
And speak old wisdom.
She drew in her chin,
Made her neck and head
The top piece of a Nile obelisk
Snatch off the gag from thy mouth, child,
And be free to keep silence.
Tell no man anything for no man listens,
Yet hold thy lips ready to speak.
Halsted Street Car
Come you, cartoonists,
Hang on a strap with me here
At seven o’clock in the morning
On a Halsted street car.
Take your pencils
And draw these faces.
Try with your pencils for these crooked faces,
That pig-sticker in one corner—his mouth—
That overall factory girl—her loose cheeks.
Find for your pencils
A way to mark your memory
Of tired empty faces.
After their night’s sleep,
In the moist dawn
And cool daybreak,
Tired of wishes,
Empty of dreams.
I asked the professors who teach the meaning of life to tell
me what is happiness.
And I went to famous executives who boss the work of
thousands of men.
They all shook their heads and gave me a smile as though
I was trying to fool with them
And then one Sunday afternoon I wandered out along
the Desplaines river
And I saw a crowd of Hungarians under the trees with
their women and children and a keg of beer and an
Harrison Street Court
I heard a woman's lips
Speaking to a companion
Say these words:
"A woman what hustles
Never keeps nothin'
For all her hustlin'.
Somebody always gets
What she goes on the street for.
If it ain't a pimp
It's a bull what gets it.
I been hustlin' now
Till I ain't much good any more.
I got nothin' to show for it.
Some man got it all,
Every night's hustlin' I ever did."
There are places I go when I am strong.
One is a marsh pool where I used to go
with a long-ear hound-dog.
One is a wild crabapple tree; I was there
a moonlight night with a girl.
The dog is gone; the girl is gone; I go to these
places when there is no other place to go.
Hell on the Wabash
When country fiddlers held a convention in
Danville, the big money went to a barn dance
artist who played Turkey in the Straw, with
They asked him the name of the piece calling
it a humdinger and he answered, "I call it
'Hell on the Wabash.'"
The two next best were The Speckled Hen, and
Sweet Potatoes Grow in Sandy Land, with
Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio
It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and coronet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Shop riveters talk with their feet
To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
"I got the blues.
I got the blues.
I got the blues."
And . . . as we said earlier:
The cartoonists weep in their beer.
Hope Is a Tattered Flag
Hope is a tattered flag and a dream of time.
Hope is a heartspun word, the rainbow, the shadblow in white
The evening star inviolable over the coal mines,
The shimmer of northern lights across a bitter winter night,
The blue hills beyond the smoke of the steel works,
The birds who go on singing to their mates in peace, war, peace,
The ten-cent crocus bulb blooming in a used-car salesroom,
The horseshoe over the door, the luckpiece in the pocket,
The kiss and the comforting laugh and resolve—
Hope is an echo, hope ties itself yonder, yonder.
The spring grass showing itself where least expected,
The rolling fluff of white clouds on a changeable sky,
The broadcast of strings from Japan, bells from Moscow,
Of the voice of the prime minister of Sweden carried
Across the sea in behalf of a world family of nations
And children singing chorals of the Christ child
And Bach being broadcast from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
And tall skyscrapers practically empty of tenants
And the hands of strong men groping for handholds
And the Salvation Army singing God loves us….