Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind

- 1878-1967
The past is a bucket of ashes.

1

The woman named Tomorrow  
sits with a hairpin in her teeth  
and takes her time  
and does her hair the way she wants it  
and fastens at last the last braid and coil 
and puts the hairpin where it belongs  
and turns and drawls: Well, what of it?  
My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.  
What of it? Let the dead be dead.  
  
 
2

The doors were cedar
and the panels strips of gold  
and the girls were golden girls  
and the panels read and the girls chanted:  
  We are the greatest city,  
  the greatest nation:
  nothing like us ever was.  
   
The doors are twisted on broken hinges.  
Sheets of rain swish through on the wind  
  where the golden girls ran and the panels read:  
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation,  
  nothing like us ever was.  
   

3

It has happened before.  
Strong men put up a city and got  
  a nation together,
And paid singers to sing and women  
  to warble: We are the greatest city,  
    the greatest nation,  
    nothing like us ever was.  
   
And while the singers sang
and the strong men listened  
and paid the singers well  
and felt good about it all,  
  there were rats and lizards who listened  
  … and the only listeners left now
  … are … the rats … and the lizards.  
   
And there are black crows  
crying, "Caw, caw,"  
bringing mud and sticks  
building a nest
over the words carved  
on the doors where the panels were cedar  
and the strips on the panels were gold  
and the golden girls came singing:  
  We are the greatest city,
  the greatest nation:  
  nothing like us ever was.  
   
The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"  
And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.  
And the only listeners now are … the rats … and the lizards.
   

4

The feet of the rats  
scribble on the door sills;  
the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints  
chatter the pedigrees of the rats  
and babble of the blood
and gabble of the breed  
of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers  
of the rats.  
   
And the wind shifts  
and the dust on a door sill shifts
and even the writing of the rat footprints  
tells us nothing, nothing at all  
about the greatest city, the greatest nation  
where the strong men listened  
and the women warbled: Nothing like us ever was. 

More by Carl Sandburg

Fog

The fog comes
on little cat feet.

It sits looking 
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.

I am the People, the Mob

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 forget.
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.

Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio

It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
The trombone pony neighs and the tuba jackass snorts.
The banjo tickles and titters too awful.
The chippies talk about the funnies in the papers.
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.
     Ship riveters talk with their feet
     To the feet of floozies under the tables.
A quartet of white hopes mourn with interspersed snickers:
        "I got the blues.
        I got the blues.
        I got the blues."
And . . . as we said earlier:
     The cartoonists weep in their beer.