Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOE HILL LISTENS TO THE PRAYING, by KENNETH PATCHEN

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

JOE HILL LISTENS TO THE PRAYING, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Look at the steady rifles, joe
Last Line: To make songs with.
Subject(s): Communism; Hill, Joe (1879-1915); Labor Unions; Social Protest; Hillstrom, Joseph; Hagglund, Joel

Look at the steady rifles, Joe.
It's all over now -- "Murder, first degree,"
The jury said. It's too late now
To go back. Listen Joe, the chaplain is reading:

Lord Jesus Christ who didst
So mercifully promise heaven
To the thief that humbly confessed
His injustice
throw back your head
Joe: remember that song of yours
We used to sing in jails all over
These United States -- tell it to him:
"I'll introduce to you
A man that is a credit to our Red, White
and Blue,
His head is made of lumber and solid as
a rock;
He is a Christian Father and his name is
Mr. Block."
Remember, Joe --
"You take the cake,
You make me ache,
Tie a rock on your block and jump
in the lake,
Kindly do that for Liberty's sake."

Behold me, I beseech Thee, with
The same eyes of mercy that
on the other
Hand we're driftin' into Jungles
From Kansas to the coast, wrapped
round brake beams on a thousand
freights; San Joaquin and Omaha
brush under the wheels -- "God made the summer
for the hobo and the bummer" -- we've been
everywhere, seen everything.
Winning the West for the good citizens;
Driving golden spikes into the U.P.;
Harvest hands, lumbermen drifting --
now Iowa, now Oregon --
God, how clean the sky; the lovely wine
Of coffee in a can. This land
is our lover. How greenly beautiful
Her hair; her great pure breasts
that are
The Rockies on a day of mist and rain.
We love this land of corn and cotton,
Virginia and Ohio, sleeping on
With our love, with our love --
O burst of Alabama loveliness, sleeping on
In the strength of our love; O Mississippi flowing
Through our nights, a giant mother.

Pardon, and in the end
How green is her hair,
how pure are her breasts; the little farms
nuzzling into her flanks
drawing forth life, big rich life
Under the deep chant of her skies
And rivers -- but we, we're driftin'
Into trouble from Kansas to the coast, clapped
into the stink and rot of country jails
and clubbed by dicks and cops
Because we didn't give a damn --
remember Joe
How little we cared, how we sang
the nights away in their filthy jails;
and how, when
We got wind of a guy called Marx
we sang less, just talked
And talked. "Blanket-stiffs" we were
But we could talk, they coudn't jail us
For that -- but they did --
remember Joe
Of my life be strengthened
One Big Union:
our convention in Chi; the Red Cards,
leaflets; sleeping in the parks,
the Boul Mich; "wobblies" now, cheering
the guys that spoke our lingo, singing
down the others. "Hear that train blow,
Boys, hear that train blow."

Now confessing my crimes, I may obtain

Millions of stars, Joe -- millions of miles.
Remember Vincent St. John
In the Goldfield strike; the timid little squirt
with the funny voice, getting onto the platform
and slinging words at us that rolled
down our chins and into our hearts,
like boulders hell-bent down a mountain side.
And Orchard, angel of peace
-- with a stick of dynamite in either hand.
Pettibone and Moyer: "The strike
Is your weapon, to hell with politics."
Big Bill remember him --
At Boise -- great red eye -- rolling like a lame bull
through the furniture and men
of the courtroom -- "This bastard,
His Honor."

Hobo Convention:
(millions of stars, Joe -- millions of miles.)
"Hallelujah, I'm a bum,
Hallelujah, I'm a bun." His Honor,
the sonofabitch!
One Big Strike, Lawrence Mass --
23,000 strong, from every neck
of every woods in America, 23,000,
Joe, remember. "We don't need
a leader. We'll fix things up
among ourselves."
"Blackie" Ford and "Double-nose" Suhr in
Wheatland -- "I. W. W.'s don't destroy
property" -- and they got life. "I've counted
The stars, boys, counted a million of these prison bars."

San Diego, soap boxes,
Hundreds of them! and always
their jail shutting out the sky,
the clean rhythm of the wheels
on a fast freight; disinfectant getting
into the lung-pits, spitting blood
But singing -- Christ, how we sang,
remember the singing
Joe, One Big Union,
One Big
hope to be
With thee

What do they matter, Joe, these rifles.
They can't reach the town, the skies, the songs,
that now are part of more
than any of us -- we were
The homeless, the drifters, but, our songs
had hair and blood on them.
There are no soap boxes in the sky.
We won't eat pie, now, or ever
when we die,
but Joe
We had something they didn't have:
our love for these States
was real and deep;
to be with Thee
In heaven, Amen.
(How steady are
the rifles.) We had slept
naked on this earth on the coldest nights
listening to the words of a guy named Marx.
Let them burn us, hang us, shoot us,

Joe Hill,
For the last we had what it takes
to make songs with.

Other Poems of Interest...

Home: PoetryExplorer.net