Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, CITIES OF THE PLAIN, by EDGAR LEE MASTERS



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CITIES OF THE PLAIN, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Where are the cabalists, the insidious committees
Last Line: We wish we had our little sodom back!
Subject(s): Cities; Urban Life


Where are the cabalists, the insidious committees,
The panders who betray the idiot cities
For miles and miles toward the prairie sprawled,
Ignorant, soul-less, rich,
Smothered in fumes of pitch?

Rooms of mahogany in tall sky scrapers
See the unfolding and the folding up
Of ring-clipped papers,
And letters which keep drugged the public cup.
The walls hear whispers and the semi-tones
Of voices in the corner, over telephones
Muffled by Persian padding, gemmed with brass spittoons.
Butts of cigars are on the glass topped table,
And through the smoke, gracing the furtive Babel,
The bishop's picture blesses the picaroons,
Who start or stop the life of millions moving
Unconscious of obedience, the plastic
Yielders to satanic and dynastic
Hands of reproaching and approving.
Here come knights armed,
But with their arms concealed,
And rubber heeled.
Here priests and wavering want are charmed.
And shadows fall here like the shark's
In messages received or sent.
Signals are flying from the battlement.
And every president
Of rail, gas, coal and oil, the parks,
The receipt of custom knows, without a look,
Their meaning as the code is in no book.
The treasonous cracksmen of the city's wealth
Watch for the flags of stealth!

Acres of coal lie fenced along the tracks.
Tracks ribbon the streets, and beneath the streets
Wires for voices, fire, thwart the plebiscites,
And choke the counsels and symposiacs
Of dreamers who have pity for the backs
That bear and bleed.
All things are theirs: tracks, wires, streets and coal,
The church's creed,
The city's soul,
The city's sea girt loveliness,
The merciless and meretricious press.

Far up in a watch-tower, where the news is printed,
Gray faces and bright eyes, weary and cynical
Discuss fresh wonders of the old cabal.
But nothing of its work in type is hinted:
Taxes are high! The mentors of the town
Must keep their taxes down
On buildings, presses, stocks
In gas, oil, coal and docks.
The mahogany rooms conceal a spider man
Who holds the taxing bodies through the church,
And knights with arms concealed. The mentors search
The spider man, the master publican,
And for his friendship silence keep,
Letting him herd the populace like sheep
For self and for the insatiable desires
Of coal and tracks and wires,
Pick judges, legislators,
And tax-gatherers.
Or name his favorites, whom they name:
The slick and sinistral,
Servitors of the cabal,
For praise which seems the equivalent of fame:
Giving to the delicate handed crackers
Of priceless safes, the spiritual slackers,
The flash and thunder of front pages!
And the gulled millions stare and fling their wages
Where they are bidden, helpless and emasculate.
And the unilluminate,
Whose brows are brass,
Who weep on every Sabbath day
For Jesus riding on an ass,
Scarce know the ass is they,
Now ridden by his effigy,
The publican with Jesus' painted mask,
Along a way where fumes of odorless gas
First spur then fell them from the task.

Through the parade runs swift the psychic cackle
Like thorns beneath a boiling pot that crackle.
And the angels say to yahveh looking down
From the alabaster railing, on the town,
O, cackle, cackle, cackle, crack and crack
We wish we had our little Sodom back!





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