blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)

Additional Poems by Carl Sandburg

from Chicago Poems (1916)


        You never come back.
I say good-by when I see you going in the doors,
The hopeless open doors that call and wait
And take you then for--how many cents a day?
How many cents for the sleepy eyes and fingers?

I say good-by because I know they tap your wrists,
In the dark, in the silence, day by day,
And all the blood of you drop by drop,
And you are old before you are young.
        You never come back.


        On the street
Slung on his shoulder is a handle half way across,
Tied in a big knot on the scoop of cast iron
Are the overalls faded from sun and rain in the ditches;
Spatter of dry clay sticking yellow on his left sleeve
        And a flimsy shirt open at the throat,
        I know him for a shovel man,
        A dago working for a dollar six bits a day
And a dark-eyed woman in the old country dreams of
        him for one of the world's ready men with a pair
        of fresh lips and a kiss better than all the wild
        grapes that ever grew in Tuscany.


Mrs. Gabrielle Giovannitti comes along Peoria Street
    every morning at nine o'clock
With kindling wood piled on top of her head, her eyes
    looking straight ahead to find the way for her old feet.
Her daughter-in-law, Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti, whose
    husband was killed in a tunnel explosion through
    the negligence of a fellow-servant,
Works ten hours a day, sometimes twelve, picking onions
    for Jasper on the Bowmanville road.
She takes a street car at half-past five in the morning,
    Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti does,
And gets back from Jasper's with cash for her day's
    work, between nine and ten o'clock at night.
Last week she got eight cents a box, Mrs. Pietro
    Giovannitti, picking onions for Jasper,
But this week Jasper dropped the pay to six cents a
    box because so many women and girls were answering
    the ads in the Daily News.
Jasper belongs to an Episcopal church in Ravenswood
    and on certain Sundays
He enjoys chanting the Nicene creed with his daughters
    on each side of him joining their voices with his.
If the preacher repeats old sermons of a Sunday, Jasper's
    mind wanders to his 700-acre farm and how he
    can make it produce more efficiently
And sometimes he speculates on whether he could word
    an ad in the Daily News so it would bring more
    women and girls out to his farm and reduce operating
Mrs. Pietro Giovannitti is far from desperate about life;
    her joy is in a child she knows will arrive to her in
    three months.
And now while these are the pictures for today there are
    other pictures of the Giovannitti people I could give
    you for to-morrow,
And how some of them go to the county agent on winter
    mornings with their baskets for beans and cornmeal
    and molasses.
I listen to fellows saying here's good stuff for a novel or
    it might be worked up into a good play.
I say there's no dramatist living can put old Mrs.
    Gabrielle Giovannitti into a play with that kindling
    wood piled on top of her head coming along Peoria
    Street nine o'clock in the morning.


I know an ice handler who wears a flannel shirt with
    pearl buttons the size of a dollar,
And he lugs a hundred-pound hunk into a saloon ice-
    box, helps himself to cold ham and rye bread,
Tells the bartender it's hotter than yesterday and will be
    hotter yet to-morrow, by Jesus,
And is on his way with his head in the air and a hard
    pair of fists.
He spends a dollar or so every Saturday night on a two
    hundred pound woman who washes dishes in the
    Hotel Morrison.
He remembers when the union was organized he broke
    the noses of two scabs and loosened the nuts so the
    wheels came off six different wagons one morning,
    and he came around and watched the ice melt in the
All he was sorry for was one of the scabs bit him on the
    knuckles of the right hand so they bled when he
    came around to the saloon to tell the boys about it.


You come along. . . tearing your shirt. . . yelling about
    Where do you get that stuff?
    What do you know about Jesus?
Jesus had a way of talking soft and outside of a few
    bankers and higher-ups among the con men of Jerusalem
    everybody liked to have this Jesus around because
    he never made any fake passes and everything
    he said went and he helped the sick and gave the
    people hope.

You come along squirting words at us, shaking your fist
    and calling us all damn fools so fierce the froth slobbers
    over your lips. . . always blabbing we're all
    going to hell straight off and you know all about it.

I've read Jesus' words. I know what he said. You don't
    throw any scare into me. I've got your number. I
    know how much you know about Jesus.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but
    they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your
    crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers
    hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out
    of the running.

I say the same bunch backing you nailed the nails into
    the hands of this Jesus of Nazareth. He had lined
    up against him the same crooks and strong-arm men
    now lined up with you paying your way.

This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened
    good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful
    from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands
    wherever he passed along.
You slimy bunkshooter, you put a smut on every human
    blossom in reach of your rotten breath belching
    about hell-fire and hiccupping about this Man who
    lived a clean life in Galilee.

When are you going to quit making the carpenters build
    emergency hospitals for women and girls driven
    crazy with wrecked nerves from your gibberish about
    Jesus--I put it to you again: Where do you get that
    stuff; what do you know about Jesus?

Go ahead and bust all the chairs you want to. Smash
    a whole wagon load of furniture at every performance.
    Turn sixty somersaults and stand on your
    nutty head. If it wasn't for the way you scare the
    women and kids I'd feel sorry for you and pass the hat.
I like to watch a good four-flusher work, but not when
    he starts people puking and calling for the doctors.
I like a man that's got nerve and can pull off a great
    original performance, but you--you're only a bug-
    house peddler of second-hand gospel--you're only
    shoving out a phoney imitation of the goods this
    Jesus wanted free as air and sunlight.

You tell people living in shanties Jesus is going to fix it
    up all right with them by giving them mansions in
    the skies after they're dead and the worms have
    eaten 'em.
You tell $6 a week department store girls all they need
    is Jesus; you take a steel trust wop, dead without
    having lived, gray and shrunken at forty years of
    age, and you tell him to look at Jesus on the cross
    and he'll be all right.
You tell poor people they don't need any more money
    on pay day and even if it's fierce to be out of a job,
    Jesus'll fix that up all right, all right--all they gotta
    do is take Jesus the way you say.
I'm telling you Jesus wouldn't stand for the stuff you're
    handing out. Jesus played it different. The bankers
    and lawyers of Jerusalem got their sluggers and
    murderers to go after Jesus just because Jesus
    wouldn't play their game. He didn't sit in with
    the big thieves.

I don't want a lot of gab from a bunkshooter in my religion.
I won't take my religion from any man who never works
    except with his mouth and never cherishes any memory
    except the face of the woman on the American
    silver dollar.

I ask you to come through and show me where you're
    pouring out the blood of your life.

I've been to this suburb of Jerusalem they call Golgotha,
    where they nailed Him, and I know if the story is
    straight it was real blood ran from His hands and
    the nail-holes, and it was real blood spurted in red
    drops where the spear of the Roman soldier rammed
    in between the ribs of this Jesus of Nazareth.


    I am singing to you
Soft as a man with a dead child speaks;
Hard as a man in handcuffs,
Held where he cannot move:

    Under the sun
Are sixteen million men,
Chosen for shining teeth,
Sharp eyes, hard legs,
And a running of young warm blood in their wrists.

    And a red juice runs on the green grass;
And a red juice soaks the dark soil.
And the sixteen million are killing. . . and killing
        and killing.

    I never forget them day or night:
They beat on my head for memory of them;
They pound on my heart and I cry back to them,
To their homes and women, dreams and games.

    I wake in the night and smell the trenches,
And hear the low stir of sleepers in lines--
Sixteen million sleepers and pickets in the dark:
Some of them long sleepers for always,

Some of them tumbling to sleep to-morrow for always,
Fixed in the drag of the world's heartbreak,
Eating and drinking, toiling. . . on a long job of
Sixteen million men.


Smash down the cities.
Knock the walls to pieces.
Break the factories and cathedrals, warehouses
    and homes
Into loose piles of stone and lumber and black
    burnt wood:
    You are the soldiers and we command you.

Build up the cities.
Set up the walls again.
Put together once more the factories and cathedrals,
    warehouses and homes
Into buildings for life and labor:
    You are workmen and citizens all: We
    command you.


Seven nations stood with their hands on the jaws of death.
It was the first week in August, Nineteen Hundred Fourteen.
I was listening, you were listening, the whole world was
And all of us heard a Voice murmuring:
        "I am the way and the light,
        He that believeth on me
        Shall not perish
        But shall have everlasting life."
Seven nations listening heard the Voice and answered:
        "O Hell!"
The jaws of death began clicking and they go on clicking.
        "O Hell !"


I am the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
Do you know that all the great work of the world is
    done through me?
I am the workingman, the inventor, the maker of the
    world's food and clothes.
I am the audience that witnesses history. The Napoleons
    come from me and the Lincolns. They die. And
    then I send forth more Napoleons and Lincolns.
I am the seed ground. I am a prairie that will stand
    for much plowing. Terrible storms pass over me.
    I forget. The best of me is sucked out and wasted.
    I forget. Everything but Death comes to me and
    makes me work and give up what I have. And I
Sometimes I growl, shake myself and spatter a few red
    drops for history to remember. Then--I forget.
When I, the People, learn to remember, when I, the
    People, use the lessons of yesterday and no longer
    forget who robbed me last year, who played me for
    a fool--then there will be no speaker in all the world
    say the name: "The People," with any fleck of a
    sneer in his voice or any far-off smile of derision.
The mob--the crowd--the mass--will arrive then.

Return to Carl Sandburg