January 26, 2013

The Man In The Street Is Fed

One of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets.

The man in the street it fed 
with lies in peace, gas in war,
and he may live now
just around the corner from you
trying to sell
the only thing he has to sell,
the power of his hand and brain
to labor for wages, for pay,
for cash of the realm.

And there are no takers, he can't connect.
Maybe he says, "Some pretty good men are on the street."
Maybe he says, "I'm just a palooka... all washed up."
Maybe he's a wild kid ready for his first stickup.
Maybe he's bummed a thousand miles and has a diploma.
Maybe he can take whatever the police can hand him,
Too many of him saying in their own wild way,
"The worst they can give you is lead in the guts."

Whatever the wild kids want to do they'll do
And whoever gives them ideas, faiths, slogans,
Whoever touches the bottom flares of them,
Connects with something prouder than all deaths
For they can live on hard corn and like it.
They are the original sons of the wild jackass
Crowned and clothed with what the Unknown Soldier had
If he went to his fate in a pride over all deaths.
Give them a cause and they are a living dynamite.
They are the game fighters who will die fighting.

Here and there a man in the street
is young, hard as nails,
cold with questions he asks
from his burning insides.

Bred in a motorized world of trial and error
He measures by millionths of an inch,
Knows ball bearings from spiral gearings,
Chain transmission, heat treatment of steel,
Speeds and feeds of automatic screw machines,
Having handled electric tools
With pistol grip and trigger switch.

Yet he can't connect and he can name thousands
Like himself idle amid plants also idle.
He studies the matter of what is justice
And revises himself on money, comfort, good name.
He doesn't know what he wants
And says when he gets it he'll know it.
He asks, "Why is this what it is?"
He asks, "Who is paying for this propaganda?"
He asks, "who owns the earth and why?"

Here and there a wife or sweetheart sees with him
The pity of being sold down the river in a smoke
Of confusions taken from the mouths of the dead
And spoken as though those dead are alive now
And would say now what they said then.

"Let him go as far as he likes," says one lawyer who sits on several heavy directorates.
"What do we care? Is he any of our business? If he knew how he could manage.
"There are exceptional cases, but where there is poverty you will generally
find they were improvident and lacking it thrift and industry.
"The system of free competition we now have has made America the
greatest and richest country on th face of the globe.
"You will seek in vain for any land where so large a number of people
have had so many of the good things of life.
"The malcontents who stir up class feeling and engender class hatred are
the foremost enemies of our republic and its constitutional government."

And so on and so on in further confusions taken from the mouths of the dead and
spoken as though those dead are alive now and would say now what they said then.
Like the form of a seen and unheard prowler,
Like a slow and cruel violence,
is the known unspoken menace:
Do what we tell you or go hungry;
listen to us or don't eat.

He walks and walks and wonders why he built the road.

Once I built a railroad
... now ...
brother, can you spare a dime?

To his dry well a man carried
all the water he could carry,
primed the pump, drew out the water,
and now
he has all the water he can carry.

We asked the cyclone
to go around our barn
but it didn't hear us.

-Carl Sandburg

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