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Carl sandburg

Carl Sandburg

POEMS
FOLLOWERS
6

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

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.

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 past is a bucket of ashes.’

            1

THE WOMAN named To-morrow
sits with a hairpin in her teeth
and takes her time
and does her hair the way she wants it
and fastens at last the last braid and coil
and puts the hairpin where it belongs
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
What of it? Let the dead be dead.

            2

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold
and the girls were golden girls
and the panels read and the girls chanted:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
  where the golden girls ran and the panels read:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,
  nothing like us ever was.

            3

It has happened before.
Strong men put up a city and got
  a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women
  to warble: We are the greatest city,
    the greatest nation,
    nothing like us ever was.

And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened
and paid the singers well
and felt good about it all,
  there were rats and lizards who listened
... and the only listeners left now
... are... the rats... and the lizards.

And there are black crows
crying, ‘Caw, caw,’
bringing mud and sticks
building a nest
over the words carved
on the doors where the panels were cedar
and the strips on the panels were gold
and the golden girls came singing:
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.

The only singers now are crows crying, ‘Caw, caw,’
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
And the only listeners now are... the rats... and the lizards.

            4

The feet of the rats
scribble on the door sills;
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
chatter the pedigrees of the rats
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
of the rats.

And the wind shifts
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints
tells us nothing, nothing at all
about the greatest city, the greatest nation
where the strong men listened
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was.

The voice of the last cricket
across the first frost
is one kind of good-by.
It is so thin a splinter of singing.

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.

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.

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.

1

A father sees his son nearing manhood.
What shall he tell that son?
‘Life is hard; be steel; be a rock.’
And this might stand him for the storms
and serve him for humdrum monotony
and guide him among sudden betrayals
and tighten him for slack moments.
‘Life is a soft loam; be gentle; go easy.’
And this too might serve him.
Brutes have been gentled where lashes failed.
The growth of a frail flower in a path up
has sometimes shattered and split a rock.
A tough will counts. So does desire.
So does a rich soft wanting.
Without rich wanting nothing arrives.
Tell him too much money has killed men
and left them dead years before burial:
the quest of lucre beyond a few easy needs
has twisted good enough men
sometimes into dry thwarted worms.
Tell him time as a stuff can be wasted.
Tell him to be a fool every so often
and to have no shame over having been a fool
yet learning something out of every folly
hoping to repeat none of the cheap follies
thus arriving at intimate understanding
of a world numbering many fools.
Tell him to be alone often and get at himself
and above all tell himself no lies about himself
whatever the white lies and protective fronts
he may use against other people.
Tell him solitude is creative if he is strong
and the final decisions are made in silent rooms.
Tell him to be different from other people
if it comes natural and easy being different.
Let him have lazy days seeking his deeper motives.
Let him seek deep for where he is born natural.
Then he may understand Shakespeare
and the Wright brothers, Pasteur, Pavlov,
Michael Faraday and free imaginations
Bringing changes into a world resenting change.
He will be lonely enough
to have time for the work
he knows as his own.

THIS handful of grass, brown, says little. This quarter mile field of it, waving seeds ripening in the sun, is a lake of luminous firefly lavender.

Prairie roses, two of them, climb down the sides of a road ditch. In the clear pool they find their faces along stiff knives of grass, and cat-tails who speak and keep thoughts in beaver brown.

These gardens empty; these fields only flower ghosts; these yards with faces gone; leaves speaking as feet and skirts in slow dances to slow winds; I turn my head and say good-by to no one who hears; I pronounce a useless good-by.

THEN came, Oscar, the time of the guns.
And there was no land for a man, no land for a country,
  Unless guns sprang up
  And spoke their language.
The how of running the world was all in guns.

The law of a God keeping sea and land apart,
The law of a child sucking milk,
The law of stars held together,
  They slept and worked in the heads of men
  Making twenty mile guns, sixty mile guns,
  Speaking their language
  Of no land for a man, no land for a country
Unless... guns... unless... guns.

There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky,
  asking a long gun to get the moon,
  to conquer the insults of the moon,
  to conquer something, anything,
  to put it over and win the day,
To show them the running of the world was all in guns.
There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky.
They dreamed... in the time of the guns... of guns.

I SAW a mouth jeering. A smile of melted red iron ran over it. Its laugh was full of nails rattling. It was a child’s dream of a mouth.  

A fist hit the mouth: knuckles of gun-metal driven by an electric wrist and shoulder. It was a child’s dream of an arm.  

The fist hit the mouth over and over, again and again. The mouth bled melted iron, and laughed its laughter of nails rattling.  

And I saw the more the fist pounded the more the mouth laughed. The fist is pounding and pounding, and the mouth answering.