SANDBURG FOR BREAKFAST
Just recently I have forsaken my long nightgown and robe for sweat pants and a raggedy t-shirt to walk out to the little library, checking on the latest surprises therein.
This morning it is a slim collection of Carl Sandburg, “Chicago Poems,” 1994 edition, though he died in 1967… I wonder who claimed the revenue for the 1994 printing.
I knew he was the Poet Laureate, or won the Pulitzer or something, didn’t he? I only just now, reading this, learned he was born in Illinois in 1878, seventy five – eighty years or so before I remember hearing of him. This morning I learned he published his first poem, “Chicago,” in 1914, in Poetry Magazine. We read it in grade school. I am certain of that, I think.
1914! One HUNDRED five years ago, if you are reading this in 2019. Three years after the deadly Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in NYC in 1911 that fueled changes in labor laws for the future. Eleven years after the Wright Brothers glided above the beach in North Carolina, shutting up naysayers, and forever leaving us with our eyes lifted skyward. Nine before Mom took her first breath in Des Moines, Iowa, some years before her family and she moved to Illinois, that common denominator to this musing. Did she read him, I wonder, or was she too busy growing up, living her life… He was an old, old man when he died. I remember pictures of his white haired head – I imagine he smelled old, and spoke with a rasp. Of course, I could be wrong about that, but no one can prove me wrong.
These poems, read anew this morning as I stood in front of my Little Free Library, reek of Illinois; carry the mid-west accent of those who live there; Mom’s accent, though sometimes I think she spoke with a bit of the Swedish tones of her stern grandmother, Clara Fredericka…something in the way Ma said “you.” I cannot explain it…so I shall get back to Sandburg.
These poems reek of Illinois (yes, I repeated it), of Chicago in 1914; AND 2019.
“They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women…
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free…
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…
…so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them…show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning…”
And Sandburg continues on with a pride so fierce, so total, so hotly alive, I forget I knew him only as a musty, old man in my head, and I hear his clear voice, his vigor. Who can write of sneering back at those who sneer, but a street smart, crusty young man, veteran of the Spanish American war, veteran of the very streets of which he writes so fully.
Eighty some poems fill this small, thin booklet printed by Dover Thrift. A tight, sad inscription fills a corner of the title page: To Bruce From Chandra to help you remember Chicago when you’re gone (gone is underlined with a flourish). I am honored to hold this in my little library. I shall read it first, though, and taste that distant city along with the life of the man from Illinois who penned them, perchance to find something of myself.
written and unedited 5/15/19 rJo Herman at the table in the backyard in the sun and slight breeze with grass that needs mowing and a growling stomach…