A Poem For International Labor Day

From Half the Truth


I wonder what Jack Miller would come back as,

his conviction that there’s nothing beyond the grave

backed up in his face, him staring through

a new creature’s eyes? Or maybe it wouldn’t have

eyes but rather sprouted from the earth in one

short thrust as, say, a gooseberry seedling, then

patiently waited to spread its pliable arms and legs.

Let’s envision the branches as Jack’s limbs

and wait there with him on a woody path until

he’s mature and can be called a tree.

If God arranged such things, indeed, Jack might grow

into a gooseberry tree just as we enter the next era

of torturing and lynching the truth tellers.

He might feel wind and bear fruit each year

until one summer tyrants bind the hands of someone

who forgets to keep his mouth shut. And as in the old

Wobbly tale, given the choice from which tree

he will hang, the condemned chooses the gooseberry

because its branches hang too low to do the job.

Of course, a story so fantastic belongs only in religion.

So, let’s call this one Millerism, a dubitable creed

that remembers the lore of the Industrial Workers

of the World and avenges the broken bodies and spirits

of Frank Little, Wesley Everest and Big Bill Haywood

with a liturgy that thumbs its nose at Mr. Block,

whose head was made from a forest blighted with mediocrity

that keeps growing back even when we think we’ve felled

the last tree. Stand with me in front of Jack’s coffin

on the day the Seattle chapter of the IWW called me

to sing his favorite Wobbly songs.

His widow, Viola,

as if to make the point that Jack couldn’t fit into the solemn

lie of a funeral parlor, shouted through her deafness

in that silent chapel, he sings nice, doesn’t he? My arms,

spry as gooseberry branches, hung from my 33-year old frame

and strummed the six-stringed mythmaker of my generation.

I’ll ask you to bear the memory of this day as if I died, too,

and joined Jack Miller in a gooseberry mangle where we sing

when a breeze kicks up from the northwest. It’s a clear day

chasing clouds across the sky on Puget Sound.

It’s a song with no lyrics but the wind.

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