Pablo Neruda: Let the Railsplitter Awake

2015 is the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War, and, of course, therefore the 150th anniversary of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  As this is poetry month, I think there is no better way to look at Lincoln, to understand his legacy, than through the lens of the great Pablo Neruda

Neruda 2This is from Canto IX of Pablo Neruda’s Canto General, entitled “Let the Railsplitter Awake.”  Written at the start of the Cold War (1948), Neruda describes, celebrates the varying faces of the working class (“We love your man with his red hands/ of Oregon clay, your black child/ who brought you music born/ in the ivory lands:. . .”), shows how much he would hope for a unity of the peoples of the world against the aggression you can already see in the U.S.  And then he warns about what might happen if the U.S. fulfills its warlike ambitions, concluding with a section that begins “Let none of this come to pass.”

The section up to and including “Let none of this come to pass”  is from the Jack Schmitt translation of Canto General. The remainder is from the translation by Mexican dancer and poet Waldeen, a close friend of Neruda, which seems to me much more lyrical than the Schmitt translation.  To learn more about her click this link, which also discusses the relationship between her and the poet.

But if you arm your hordes, North America,

translators include Jack Hirschman, Stephen Kessler, Robert Haas

translators include Jack Hirschman, Stephen Kessler, Robert Haas

to destroy that pure frontier
and bring the butcher from Chicago
to govern the music and the order
that we love,
we’ll rise from the stones and the air
to bite you:
we’ll rise from the last window
to pour fire on you:
we’ll rise from the deepest waves
to sting you with spines:
we’ll rise from the furrow so that the seed
will pound you like a Colombian fist,

we’ll rise to deny you bread and water,
we’ll rise to burn you in hell.

**************************

Let none of this come to pass.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Let Abe come, let his aged yeast raise

Waldeen Dancing

Waldeen Dancing

the green and gold earth of Illinois,
let him lift up his axe in his own town
against the new slaveholders
against the slave-lash
against the poisoned printing-press
against the bloodied merchandise
they want to sell.
Let them march singing and smiling,
the young white, the young Negro,
against the walls of gold
against the manufacturer of their blood,
let them sing, laugh and conquer.

Let the Rail Splitter awake.

Peace for the twilights to come,
peace for the bridge, peace for the wine,
peace for the stanzas which pursue me
and in my blood uprise entangling
my earlier songs with earth and loves,
peace for the city in the morning
when bread wakes up, peace for the Mississippi,
source of rivers,
peace for my brother’s shirt,
peace for books like a seal of air,
peace for the great kolkhoz of Kiev,
peace for the ashes of those dead
and of these other dead, peace for the grimy
iron of Brooklyn, peace for the letter-carrier
who from house to house goes like the day,
peace for the choreographer who shouts
through a funnel to the honeysuckle vine,
peace for my own right hand
that wants to write only Rosario,
peace for the Bolivian, secretive
as a lump of tin, peace
so that you may marry, peace for all
the saw-mills of Bio-Bio,
peace for the torn heart of guerilla Spain,
peace for the little museum in Wyoming
where the most lovely thing
is a pillow embroidered with a heart,
peace for the baker and his loaves,
and peace for the flour, peace
for all the wheat to be born,
for all the love which will seek its tasselled shelter,
peace for all those alive: peace
for all lands and all waters.

Here I say farewell, I return
to my house, in my dreams
I return to Patagonia where
the wind rattles the barns
and the ocean spatters ice.
I am nothing more than a poet: I love all of you,
I wander about the world I love;
in my country they gaol miners
and soldiers give orders to judges.
But I love even the roots
in my small cold country,
if I had to die a thousand times over
it is there I would die,
if I had to be born a thousand times over
it is there I would be born
near the tall wild pines
the tempestuous south wind
the newly purchased bells.
Let none think of me.
Let us think of the entire earth
and pound the table with love.
I don’t want blood again
to saturate bread, beans, music: Neruda 3
I wish they would come with me:
the miner, the little girl,
the lawyer, the seaman,
the doll-maker,
to go into a movie and come out
to drink the reddest wine.
I did not come to solve anything.
I came here to sing
and for you to sing with me.

From somewhere in the Americas, May 1948

Eduardo Galeano: Because of You, We Will Remember

galeanodouble-webEduardo Galeano sat at my dining room table in my Chicago apartment on Lill Street one block away from Guild Books, pen poised and a stack of books to be signed at his side. Breakfast consumed, he had reluctantly agreed to sign some books in advance of his appearance at the bookstore later that Saturday, 1988.   He was anxious, it seemed, and we had been warned that his health was mending after some heart issues. We didn’t press him to sign books, but were delighted when he agreed with our suggestion that some folks might just want to purchase a signed copy without talking with him. After a walk in the neighborhood he arrived at the bookstore. He began to read.

The crowd hung on his words, as he read in English but also in Spanish, and then answered questions, altogether about an hour and a half, and then began signing books, as the line snaked throughout the store. He talked with each person as much as the person wanted; he took pictures with the customers and their children. I stood at his side doing the task that all booksellers do in this situation: open the books to the pages preferred for the signature. And about 45 minutes into the signing ritual Eduardo turned to me with a broad but incredulous smile: “They like me. They really like me!”

Before he left, Eduardo toured the 3,000 square feet of the book store and spent some time looking at the political and labor posters we had for sale, on display in a rack. He fingered the display, took some notes, and left. The next morning friends of ours recorded an interview with him on video and took him in search of Haymarket Square, a search that proved unsuccessful.

Some years later he returned for a reading of the Book of Embraces. In a section entitled “Forgetting,” about Haymarket and about Guild, he wrote:

Bk of EmbracesAfter my fruitless exploration of the Haymarket, my friends take me to the largest bookstore in the city. And there, poking around, just by accident, I discover an old poster that seems to be waiting for me, stuck among many movie and rock posters. The poster displays an African proverb: Until lions have their own historians, histories of the hunt will glorify the hunter.

 

In 1995 Guild Books had been closed for two years, but the Guild Complex hosted Eduardo for his newest book, Walking Words. Diana and I drove him to the reading location, a settlement house in the Wicker Park area, and on the way crossed the Chicago River. Walking Words is a book of myths, some modern, some older, many of water spirits and animals, in a collaborative with Jose Francisco Borges, whose woodcuts illustrate the stories. Diana told Eduardo stories about the Chicago River, whose history included years of being set on fire from the materials polluting the waters, years of being unsafe to drink for the animals that populated the river, years of being attacked by the manufacturers who degraded the water supply and the people who lived on its banks. Eduardo listened, intent, with evident pain in his face. “But wait,” Diana said, “the river had its revenge. Last year the river refused to be contained by the man made barricades, burst through into the tunnel through which the subways run and up into the streets of the city, causing millions and millions of dollars of damage.”

“The earth has memory,” Eduardo said. “That is important. Memory is important. I want to know more about memory.”

A decade had passed between the time I first tried to get Eduardo Galeano to come to my bookstore and the publication party for Walking Words. By the time Book of Embraces was published, Susan Bergholz (Eduardo’s agent) had negotiated a contract with a different publisher, W.W. Norton, whose list more adequately represented the independent ideas expressed by Galeano. How could Eduardo possibly remain with Random House, the publisher who had fired Pantheon’s manager, Andres Schiffrin? Which had been taken over by European conglomerate Bertelsmann? Whose corporate leadership reveled in the literary (meaning sales) qualities of Danielle Steele?

Not knowing at all. Forgetting. And recovering memory.

We know now where the Haymarket was, where the rally was for which the Haymarket martyrs were arrested and imprisoned and executed. In 2006 Henry Holt published Eduardo’s Voices of Time, continuing the epigrammatic form he has worked with, this time “stories that I lived or heard.”   At the Guild Complex we convinced Susan Bergholz to take Eduardo’s strenuous tour through Chicago once more. He read for us at the Museum of Contemporary Art to a packed audience. For many, this was the culmination of what Guild Books had been about. For us, it was an opportunity of bringing memory, forgetting, and not knowing at all together, these themes that strike at the heart of Galeano’s work and of the revolutionary process.

May Day, 2006, just weeks earlier, I walked among almost a million Chicagoans along a route from Union Park to Randolph into the Loop and Grant Park. The steel, concrete and glass canyons resounded with the chants of marchers, many of them recent immigrants from Mexico and Latin America. “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” reverberated from the walls of those buildings, the marchers swelling into the streets in a mass farther than anyone could see.

But before coming to the loop, just a few blocks out of Union Park, we came to Randolph and Des Plaines. I stepped to the sidewalk, stood in the shadow of the corner building and looked north as the throng walked by me. The contingent from one union, also looking north, paused briefly and saluted the sculpture across the way – a recreation of the platform from which the speakers addressed their audience that May, 1886.

To bring this reality of American consciousness to the reading that Eduardo was going to do, we made sure that some of those union leaders representing the marchers introduce Eduardo. And so they did, and we had the chance to talk about the sculpture, the march, and that although many marchers did not know where Haymarket square was, and we noted the fact that their march reclaimed not only the memory of the martyrs but the reality of the struggle which continues.

My life after Guild Books led me to become an assistant manager in Barnes & Noble. This essay closes with a morning meeting, the kind of meeting that corporations think is necessary to get everyone on board for the day’s sales. This day was May Day. So I took the opportunity to dig out The Book Of Embraces to read to the opening staff the words about this historic day. Most listened in respectful silence, Open Veinsone or two said they knew about this, I noticed a sneer and some uncomfortable whispering. But when the meeting was over, one of the receivers (the department responsible for unpacking books and getting them ready for shelving) came over to me. He was a Scottish immigrant going to school while working. His expression was intent, excited. “You mean the workers holiday,” he said, “international workers day started here, in Chicago? I did na’ know that. That’s amazing!”

I want to be clear about this: while this piece is about Eduardo Galeano; and while it is about what kind of bookstore Guild Books was; and of course about my relationship to both; fundamentally it is about literature and revolution. It is about history and lions and how, by recovering memory, of making known what is unknown, the lions begin to write their own history.

On this day, April 13, 2015 we learned that Don Eduardo Galeano has died. Eduardo, we will remember. Because of you, we will remember.

 

 

Burying Caesar in Chicago

Burying Caesar in Chicago

by Lew Rosenbaum

“I have come to bury Caesar

Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar

Not to praise him.”

So spoke Mark Antony

At the great man’s funeral,

And then proceeded to extol

Caesar’s virtues for the remainder of his monologue,

Until he roused the Roman masses

To avenge Caesar’s murder.

Antony ignored the rebellion

Brewing near Galilee.

He could not speak yet of the crucifixion,

Still a half century to come,

Of a poor carpenter, a fisher of men.

Now it’s the day after the Ides of March

I HAVE come to bury Caesar.

Really.

Caesar, upon his death,

Bequeathed to each Roman citizen

The sum of seventy-five drachmas.

Our Caesar, fearing the anger of

Chicago workers, dangled a carrot,

A minimum wage raise to thirteen dollars

Per hour in four years.

In FOUR YEARS!

Oh yes. I have come to BURY Caesar.

Our gentle Caesar,

In his penetrating recognition

Of our anxieties,

Pledged to improve our mental health services. . .

By closing half the Chicago clinics.

At the disarray in the public schools,

He wept tears of pure gold

That ran rivulets into the pockets of

His honorable charter school cronies.

Then he crossed the Rubicon,

Embarked on a forced march to

Shutter more than fifty schools.

I tell you

I have come to bury our honorable Caesar.

Had Brutus and Cassius, both honorable men,

Stabbed their Caesar on the South Side of Chicago,

His murder might have been averted,

Or so some Romans say, lamenting his fate.

I say not so, for Chicago’s Caesar

Stood fast opposing a trauma center

Which might have staunched the flow

From those unkindest cuts of all.

I come to bury Caesar,

Not to praise him.

Nor will I lend my ears

To those who sycophate at his feet,

Paint pictures that can never

Obliterate the blood he has let.

I come to bury Caesar.

I come to elect Jésus.

Two Poems on Dread, Dark Times and Trees: Adrienne Rich and Bertolt Brecht

Yesterday, March 8, was International Working Women’s Day.  At the Royal Soul’s open mic, to commemorate this, I read the following poem by Adrienne Rich.  I introduced the poem by describing the recent appearance in which four motions presented by Reverend Pinkney were denied by a kangaroo court.  It echoed, for me, the idea of “our country moving closer to its own truth and dread/its own ways of making people disappear.”  (Click the link to read the poem on the Poetry Foundation site, and to hear a recording of Adrienne Rich reading it)

What Kind of Times Are These

By Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich describes Michael Warr's poetry as "the real thing."

Adrienne Rich

There’s a place between two stands of trees where the grass grows uphill
and the old revolutionary road breaks off into shadows
near a meeting-house abandoned by the persecuted
who disappeared into those shadows.
I’ve walked there picking mushrooms at the edge of dread, but don’t be fooled
this isn’t a Russian poem, this is not somewhere else but here,
our country moving closer to its own truth and dread,
its own ways of making people disappear.
I won’t tell you where the place is, the dark mesh of the woods
meeting the unmarked strip of light—
ghost-ridden crossroads, leafmold paradise:
I know already who wants to buy it, sell it, make it disappear.
And I won’t tell you where it is, so why do I tell you
anything? Because you still listen, because in times like these
to have you listen at all, it’s necessary
to talk about trees.

“What Kind of Times Are These”. © 2002, 1995 by Adrienne Rich, from The Fact of a Doorframe: Selected Poems 1950-2001 by Adrienne Rich. Used by permission of the author and W.W. Norton, Inc.

Source: Dark Fields of the Republic: Poems 1991-1995 (W. W. Norton and Company Inc., 1995)

Then, when others echoed the theme of trees, and added dark and light into the mix, I read this by Bertolt Brecht.  The context for this is the verse from another poem that goes:
In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.

To Posterity

Bertolt Brecht

Bertolt Brecht

1.

Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

It is true: I earn my living
But, believe me, it is only an accident.
Nothing that I do entitles me to eat my fill.
By chance I was spared. (If my luck leaves me
I am lost.)

They tell me: eat and drink. Be glad you have it!
But how can I eat and drink
When my food is snatched from the hungry
And my glass of water belongs to the thirsty?
And yet I eat and drink.

I would gladly be wise.
The old books tell us what wisdom is:
Avoid the strife of the world
Live out your little time
Fearing no one
Using no violence
Returning good for evil —
Not fulfillment of desire but forgetfulness
Passes for wisdom.
I can do none of this:
Indeed I live in the dark ages!

2.

I came to the cities in a time of disorder
When hunger ruled.
I came among men in a time of uprising
And I revolted with them.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

I ate my food between massacres.
The shadow of murder lay upon my sleep.
And when I loved, I loved with indifference.
I looked upon nature with impatience.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

In my time streets led to the quicksand.
Speech betrayed me to the slaughterer.
There was little I could do. But without me
The rulers would have been more secure. This was my hope.
So the time passed away
Which on earth was given me.

3.

You, who shall emerge from the flood
In which we are sinking,
Think —
When you speak of our weaknesses,
Also of the dark time
That brought them forth.

For we went,changing our country more often than our shoes.
In the class war, despairing
When there was only injustice and no resistance.

For we knew only too well:
Even the hatred of squalor
Makes the brow grow stern.
Even anger against injustice
Makes the voice grow harsh. Alas, we
Who wished to lay the foundations of kindness
Could not ourselves be kind.

But you, when at last it comes to pass
That man can help his fellow man,
Do no judge us
Too harshly.

translated by H. R. Hays  (click the link to read on the Poem Hunter site)

 

Chuck Berry is a Poem (by Cornelius Eady)

Chuck Berry

by Cornelius Eady

Hamburger wizard,

Chuck Berry

Chuck Berry

Loose-limbed instigator,

V-8 engine, purring for a storm

The evidence of a tight skirt, viewed from

the window of a moving city bus,

Yelling her name, a spell, into the glass.

The amazing leap, from nobody to stockholder,

(Look, Ma, no hands), piped through a hot amp.

Figure skater on the rim of the invisible class wall,

The strength of the dreamer who wakes up, and it’s

Monday, a week of work, but gets out of bed

The unsung desire of the check-out clerk

The shops of the sleepy backwater town,

waiting for the kid to make good,

to chauffer home

The twang of the New Jersey turnpike

in the wee, wee hours.

The myth of the lover as he passes, blameless

through the walls.

The fury hidden in the word almost.

The fury hidden in the word please.

The dream of one’s name in lights,

Of sending the posse on the wrong trail,

Shaking the wounded Indian’s hand, a brother.

The pulse of a crowd, knowing that the police

Have pushed in the door, dancing regardless

The frenzy of the word go.

The frenzy of the word go.

The frenzy of the word go.

The spark between the thought of the kiss

and receiving the kiss,

The tension in these words:

You Can’t Dance.

The amazing duck walk

The understanding that all it’s going to take

is one fast song.

The triumph in these words:

Bye-bye New Jersey, as if rising

from a shallow grave.

The soda-jerk who plots doo-wop songs,

The well-intentioned Business School student

who does what she’s told, suspects

they’re keeping it hid.

Mr. Rock-n-Roll-jump-over

(or get left behind),

Mr. Taxes? Who, me? Money beat,

Money beat, you can’t catch me,

(but they do),

A perpetual well of quarters in the pocket.

The incalculable hit of energy in the voice

of a 16 year-old as her favorite band

hits the stage,

And 10,000 pair of eyes look for what they’re after:

Cornelius Eady

Cornelius Eady

More.

And 10,000 voices roar for it:

More.

And a multitude you wouldn’t care to count

surrounds the joint, waits for their opportunity

to break in.

[Cornelius Eady teaches at the University of Missouri]

Punxatawney Phil Talks to Me on Groundhog Day

Punxsutawney Phil Talks to Me on Groundhog Day

                                                  by Lew Rosenbaum

Every year the “Inner Circle” pushes me

Out of my comfortable lair

So they can laugh when I scamper back into my home

The "Inner Circle" extracts a prediction from Punxatawney Phil

The “Inner Circle” extracts a prediction from Punxsutawney Phil

At the sight of my own shadow.

I’m sick of it.

I’m tired of being their plaything, their

Object.

Sure they feed me crumbs all through the year,

Just so they can watch this annual charade.

They make millions of dollars on

Punxsutawney Phil dolls.

It’s the one day of the year that meteorologists

Take the day off, leave the predictions to me.

If I  run from my shadow (again!),

It’s six more weeks of winter.

It’s the six more weeks of winter for all of us,

Six more weeks of scarcity.

The six more weeks that stretch

Through the entire year.

Think about it. Being scared of our shadows

Is the human condition, not only groundhog

Existentialism.

Whose shadow is that really? For the groundhog

It could be a hawk, eagle, or fox. For humans?

President, General, Mayor, cop, boss.

I’m sick of it. You should be too.

Groundhogs are going on strike.

We’re ready for roots, berries and grubs without threats.

What kind of world are you ready to make?

From Wikipedia: Punxsutawney Phil Sowerby is a groundhog in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. On February 2 (Groundhog Day) of each year, the town of Punxsutawney celebrates the legendary groundhog with a festive atmosphere of music and food. During the ceremony, which begins well before the winter sunrise, Phil emerges from his temporary home on Gobbler’s Knob, located in a rural area about 2 miles (3.2 km) east of town. According to the tradition, if Phil sees his shadow and returns to his hole, he has predicted six more weeks of winter-like weather. If Phil does not see his shadow, he has predicted an “early spring.”[1] The date of Phil’s prognostication is known as Groundhog Day in the United States and Canada, and has been celebrated since 1887.

A select group, called the Inner Circle, takes care of Phil year-round and also plans the annual ceremony. Members of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club’s Inner Circle are recognizable by their top hats and tuxedos.

Never Let A Good Crisis Go to Waste

From 1945 to 1953, “This Is Your FBI” ran as a weekly radio program.  The old-time radio website explains the show in this way: “These were fact-based dramas that told the story of FBI cases from the agent’s point of view. Producer/director Jerry Devine had previous thradio experience on the show Mr. District Attorney, which was a solid and responsible pro-law enforcement radio drama.”  So much “from the agent’s point of view”; so “solid and responsible pro-law-enforcement” that J. Edgar Hoover worked with the producer to make it more authentic.  At the end of each show, as I remember from listening to it as a child, an actor performing the role of Hoover would explain how the country was infiltrated by bad guys.  He would tell us that we children should keep our ears attuned and our eyes open for the evil and the peril of communism.  He instructed us not to try to intervene; he especially warned us about our parents and family, and that we should recognize that the importance of protecting the country was greater than any allegiance we owed to family and friends.  In short, we should turn in our commie parents.  (As an impressionable child, I was quite stricken by these instructions.  I don’t remember having any indication, or recognizing any indication, that my parents were engaged in subversive activity. Nevertheless, I cautiously warned my mother not to tell me if she WERE involved in communist activity, because if I knew I would be duty bound to . . .well you get the picture).

Again: don’t DO anything.  Report the matter so that the FBI can intervene.  Don’t tell the subversives that you are watching and what you are doing.th-2

It is with that sort of terror that I heard the statements coming from the mouths of New York policemen and politicians and echoed by other irresponsible folk around the country.  Politicians thrive on the maxim: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” Cases in point: George Bush following 9/11/2001 on a world stage; the privatization of the New Orleans public schools after Katrina. And now the police union, George Pataki, Rudy Giulani and others in New York have blamed protesters for the assassination of 2 police officers. But they have gone further to enlist the aid of the general populace in identifying anyone who might write on a blog, or social media, anything that might be interpreted as threatening to the police.

A span of 60 plus years intervenes between then and now. A lot of reading, gathering knowledge and experience, and documents showing that the list of “subversive” organizations and individuals investigated by the FBI and held on Richard Nixon’s list stretch the length of a football field.  Now my stomach churns and old memories revive and this time I am on the side that I expect would be reported, not for threatening anyone, but for simply being supportive of and associated with those justly protesting the police, who act as a special body of armed (mostly) men standing above society.  For writing this blog post. Yes.

Events are moving quickly, and every effort is being made to line up as many people as possible to support an assault on protest, crush dissent rapidly.  From the emergency managers supplanting democracy in Michigan (a surprising number of people have been

Benton Harbor, Michigan activist Rev. Edward Pinkney

Benton Harbor, Michigan activist Rev. Edward Pinkney

won to the side of hoping these managers will solve the problems of the cities ruined by capitalism), to the arrest, conviction and sentencing of Reverend Edward Pinkney for up to 10 years in prison for attempting to defend Benton Harbor from corporate takeover to the escalating numbers of police killings around the country, the Dred Scott decision seems to have been updated: poor people in America have no rights that capitalism is bound to respect; and to execute its will, capitalism is preparing a full blown fascist assault on our rights.

The point though is that capitalism has no choice if it wants to save its control of private property. Democracy, limited as it may be, is the treasured disguise of capitalism. Once the emperor has no clothes, force is it’s only option, the option of weakness.  It has seized the tactical offensive, because strategically it is on the defensive.  How else can it control the 80% of the American population that is flirting with poverty, or the 15% of the American population that is already in poverty? That is what unites the American people. Centuries of ideological schisms, underpinned by material differences, are melting into air — if we can seize on our common economic interests, our battle for survival. If we can turn our defensive posture into a fight forward, toward the new cooperative world that is possible.  A new cooperative world is necessary, and the future is up to us.

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