Visiting a dead man on a summer day

Original Text: 
© Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982): 4-5. 811.54 P37.6 Toronto Public Library
1In flat America, in Chicago,
3Forty feet of Corinthian candle
5lonely raisin in a cake of concrete.
7in an island parthenon.
8Barons of hogfat, railroads and wheat
9are postmarked with angels and lambs.
11in a triangle of trees swims dappled with leaf shadow,
12sketched light arch within arch
13delicate as fingernail moons.
14The green doors should not be locked.
15Doors of fern and flower should not be shut.
17It is not now good weather for prophets.
18Sun eddies on the steelsmoke air like sinking honey.
19On the inner green door of the Getty tomb
20(a thighbone's throw from your stone)
21a marvel of growing, blooming, thrusting into seed:
22how all living wreathe and insinuate
23in the circlet of repetition that never repeats:
24ever new birth never rebirth.
25Each tide pool microcosm spiraling from your hand.
26Sullivan, you had another five years
27when your society would give you work.
28Thirty years with want crackling in your hands.
29Thirty after years with cities
30flowering and turning grey in your beard.
31All poets are unemployed nowadays.
32My country marches in its sleep.
33The past structures a heavy mausoleum
34hiding its iron frame in masonry.
35Men burn like grass
36while armies grow.
37Thirty years in the vast rumbling gut
38of this society you stormed
39to be used, screamed
40no louder than any other breaking voice.
41The waste of a good man
42bleeds the future that's come
43in Chicago, in flat America,
44where the poor still bleed from the teeth,
45housed in sewers and filing cabinets,
46where prophets may spit into the wind
47till anger sleets their eyes shut,
48where this house that dances the seasons
49and the braid of all living
50and the joy of a man making his new good thing
51is strange, irrelevant as a meteor,
52in Chicago, in flat America
Copyright 1982 Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy Alfred A. Knopf

Notes

2] Graceland Cemetery, in the Lakeview district at Irving Park Road and Clark St., opened for business in 1860. Back to Line
4] The concrete-block grave of George Pullman, the wealthy railroad man, was devised to protect it against desecration by his own workers, whose strike against his company was put down by federal soldiery despite protests from the Governor of Illinois. See Matt Hucke's "Graveyards of Chicago": "The coffin was covered in tar paper and asphalt, and enclosed in the center of a room-sized block of concrete, reinforced with railroad ties." Back to Line
6] An allusion to Potter Palmer (1826-1902), who opened the historic and still operating Palmer House Hotel on the corner of State and Monroe Streets. See Matt Hucke's "Graveyards of Chicago" for the tomb erected for him and his wife Bertha Honoré Palmer (1850-1918). Back to Line
10] The Getty monument was built by businessman Henry Harrison Getty for his wife, Carrie Eliza Getty, in 1890. See Matt Hucke's "Graveyards of Chicago" site. Back to Line
16] Louis Henri Sullivan (1856-1924).
See Piercy's answer to a question posed by Ira Wood:
WOOD. Who was Louis Sullivan and why did you start the book at his grave?

PIERCY. Louis Sullivan was a very great architect who never got to build most of the buildings that were in him, as I feared I wouldn't get to create in public visible form my art. He was defeated by the beginning of the American vision of empire that led us into foreign conquest and made us create bank buildings as temples to money, that Roman design that marked our cities. Right after college I felt very consciously Midwestern and I was searching for populist roots, Midwestern heroes, and some kind of history that led to me. The Chicago anarchists, Emma Goldman, Eugene Debs. Sullivan's books are interesting too, by the way.

("A Conversation between Ira Wood and Marge Piercy," in Parti-Colored Blocks for a Quilt [Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1982]: 307.) See Piercy's Web site. Back to Line
53] On July 23, 1967, riots began in Detroit that lasted five days and led to the burning of over one thousand businesses, most of them owned by black Americans, and to many deaths. There were also serious riots that year in Newark, New Jersey, and of course this was the year of the infamous "Mississippi Burning" trial for the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
1967
Publication Notes: 
Carleton Miscellany (Winter 1967); Breaking Camp: Poems by Marge Piercy (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1968): 11-12. PS 3566 I4B7 Robarts Library
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.
Rhyme: 
Special Copyright: 

<b>This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of Marge Piercy, Leapfrog Press or Knopf permissions department.</b>