Long Guns

- 1878-1967

Then came Oscar, the time of the guns, 
And there was no land for a man, no land for a country,
      Unless guns sprang up
      And spoke their language.
The how of running the world was all in guns.

The law of a God keeping sea and land apart,
The law of a child sucking milk,
The law of stars held together,
      They slept and worked in the heads of men
      Making twenty-mile guns, sixty-mile guns,
      Speaking their language
      Of no land for a man, no land for a country
      Unless… guns… unless… guns.

There was a child wanted the moon shot off the sky,
      asking a long gun to get the moon,
      to conquer the insults of the moon,
      to conquer something, anything,
      to put it over and run up the flag,
To show them the running of the world was all in guns.

There was a child wanted the moon shot off the day.
They dreamed… in the time of the guns… of guns.

More by Carl Sandburg

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.

Wilderness

There is a wolf in me … fangs pointed for tearing gashes … a red tongue for raw meat … and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fox in me … a silver-gray fox … I sniff and guess … I pick things out of the wind and air … I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers … I circle and loop and double-cross.

There is a hog in me … a snout and a belly … a machinery for eating and grunting … a machinery for sleeping satisfied in the sun—I got this too from the wilderness and the wilderness will not let it go.

There is a fish in me … I know I came from saltblue water-gates … I scurried with shoals of herring … I blew waterspouts with porpoises … before land was … before the water went down … before Noah … before the first chapter of Genesis.

There is a baboon in me … clambering-clawed … dog-faced … yawping a galoot’s hunger … hairy under the armpits … here are the hawk-eyed hankering men … here are the blond and blue-eyed women … here they hide curled asleep waiting … ready to snarl and kill … ready to sing and give milk … waiting—I keep the baboon because the wilderness says so.

There is an eagle in me and a mockingbird … and the eagle flies among the Rocky Mountains of my dreams and fights among the Sierra crags of what I want … and the mockingbird warbles in the early forenoon before the dew is gone, warbles in the underbrush of my Chattanoogas of hope, gushes over the blue Ozark foothills of my wishes—And I got the eagle and the mockingbird from the wilderness.

O, I got a zoo, I got a menagerie, inside my ribs, under my bony head, under my red-valve heart—and I got something else: it is a man-child heart, a woman-child heart: it is a father and mother and lover: it came from God-Knows-Where: it is going to God-Knows-Where—For I am the keeper of the zoo: I say yes and no: I sing and kill and work: I am a pal of the world: I came from the wilderness.

Poems Done on a Late Night Car

I. CHICKENS

I am The Great White Way of the city:  
When you ask what is my desire, I answer:  
"Girls fresh as country wild flowers,  
With young faces tired of the cows and barns,  
Eager in their eyes as the dawn to find my mysteries,
Slender supple girls with shapely legs,  
Lure in the arch of their little shoulders  
And wisdom from the prairies to cry only softly at the ashes of my mysteries."  
  


II. USED UP
Lines based on certain regrets that come with rumination
upon the painted faces of women on North Clark Street, Chicago

          Roses,  
        Red roses,
          Crushed  
In the rain and wind  
Like mouths of women  
Beaten by the fists of  
Men using them. 
  O little roses  
  And broken leaves  
  And petal wisps:  
You that so flung your crimson  
  To the sun
Only yesterday.  
  


III. HOME

Here is a thing my heart wishes the world had more of:  
I heard it in the air of one night when I listened  
To a mother singing softly to a child restless and angry in the darkness. 

Related Poems

Repression of War Experience

Now light the candles; one; two; there's a moth;
What silly beggars they are to blunder in
And scorch their wings with glory, liquid flame—
No, no, not that,—it's bad to think of war,
When thoughts you've gagged all day come back to scare you;
And it's been proved that soldiers don't go mad
Unless they lose control of ugly thoughts
That drive them out to jabber among the trees.

Now light your pipe; look, what a steady hand.
Draw a deep breath; stop thinking; count fifteen,
And you're as right as rain….
                                     Why won't it rain?…
I wish there'd be a thunder-storm to-night,
With bucketsful of water to sluice the dark,
And make the roses hang their dripping heads.

Books; what a jolly company they are,
Standing so quiet and patient on their shelves,
Dressed in dim brown, and black, and white, and green
And every kind of colour. Which will you read?
Come on; O do read something; they're so wise.
I tell you all the wisdom of the world
Is waiting for you on those shelves; and yet
You sit and gnaw your nails, and let your pipe out,
And listen to the silence: on the ceiling
There's one big, dizzy moth that bumps and flutters;
And in the breathless air outside the house
The garden waits for something that delays.
There must be crowds of ghosts among the trees,—
Not people killed in battle,—they're in France,—
But horrible shapes in shrouds—old men who died
Slow, natural deaths,—old men with ugly souls,
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.

* * *

You're quiet and peaceful, summering safe at home;
You'd never think there was a bloody war on!…
O yes, you would … why, you can hear the guns.
Hark! Thud, thud, thud,—quite soft … they never cease—
Those whispering guns—O Christ, I want to go out
And screech at them to stop—I'm going crazy;
I'm going stark, staring mad because of the guns.

My Life in Politics

Incapable of limiting themselves to petty
offenses, my hands broke into my chest and choked
every slumbering deity.
                                After that I no longer cared
to argue about the nature of the flesh. Whether powered by vitalist or
mechanical forces, the spirits had in either case evaporated
as easily as life from the nostrils of a drowned man.

                     Oddly, I did begin to care about numbers, but only in exchangeable forms.
“Bread,” I heard a man say once
           and it made me a depressive materialist, not
unlike a Franciscan without a dove. I collected frozen peas, greeting each one
like a lost friend, then dispersing them in green streams to the hungry mouths
in the surrounding counties.

                     At home I have an old painting to comfort me, a fine example
of Impressionism from the Eastern bloc circa 1981. In the subtle oranges
singeing the trees one sees the foreshadowing of martial law.

                     As a child sat in my Western living room and watched
                     the Molotov cocktails fly behind the Iron Drape. Back then no one thought
to explain to me how walls against the flight of capital might end in flames,
how on TV I was witnessing soldiers clip the wings of the very same paper birds
                                                                             that here flew all around me.

Elegy

I remember the boys & their open hands. High fives

of farewell. I remember that the birches waved too,

the white jagged limbs turning away from incessant wildfires.

 

The future wavered, unlike a question, unlike

a hand or headstone. The future moved & the fields already knew it.

 

I remember the war of the alphabet, its ears sliced from its face. I

know that language asks for blood.

 

The children of kudzu, lilac, the spit of unknown rivers. I remember the jury

& the judge of the people. The buckshot that blew

the morning’s torso into smoke.

 

That last morning I begged the grandmothers to leave their rage next to red candles

& worn photographs of their children & their blue-eyed grandson

with his bleeding heart. The savior bled flowers.

 

I scattered the stones the trees bore. Gray vultures came for my children.

They knew the old country better than me. They broke through

skyscrapers & devoured both villain & hero.

 

& boys were pouring, wanted & unwanted & missing yet from the long mouth

where their voices were forced to say they were nothing. But they were men, invisible

& native & guilty beyond their glottal doubt.

 

I remember calling out to the savage field where more boys knelt & swung

through the air. I remember how their eyes rolled back

in blood, milk, & gasoline. Their white teeth

chewing cotton into shrouds, scars & sheets.

 

They gave me their last words. They gave me smiles for their fathers.

They slept in my arms, dead & bruised. Long as brambles.

 

The bullets in their heads & groins

quieting like a day. The meat of nothing.

 

I held their million heads in my lap when the bodies were taken away.

I don’t know if what’s left will dance or burn.

I wash their eyelids with mint.

But let God beg pardon to them & their mothers

 

& I don’t know if the body is a pendulum of where love cannot go

when the tongue is swollen with the milk of black boys.

I pulled their lives from the trees & lawns & schools.

The unlit houses & the river. Their forewings wet

with clouds

 

& screaming. I won’t leave them,

huddled like bulls inside the stall of a word. I am the shriek,

the suture, the petal

shook loose from their silence.