Illinois

On December 11, 2003, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich named Kevin Stein the state’s fourth poet laureate, following Howard Austin, Carl Sandburg, and Gwendolyn Brooks. Stein has published eight poetry collections and chapbooks, three scholarly books, and two poetry anthologies.

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Chicago

        Hog Butcher for the World,
        Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
        Player with Railroads and the Nation's
             Freight Handler;
        Stormy, husky, brawling,
        City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
            Bareheaded,
            Shoveling,
            Wrecking,
            Planning,
            Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
            Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

In a Breath

     To the Williamson Brothers

High noon. White sun flashes on the Michigan Avenue asphalt. Drum of hoofs and whirr of motors. Women trapsing along in flimsy clothes catching play of sun-fire to their skin and eyes.

Inside the playhouse are movies from under the sea. From the heat of pavements and the dust of sidewalks, passers-by go in a breath to be witnesses of large cool sponges, large cool fishes, large cool valleys and ridges of coral spread silent in the soak of the ocean floor thousands of years.

A naked swimmer dives. A knife in his right hand shoots a streak at the throat of a shark. The tail of the shark lashes. One swing would kill the swimmer… Soon the knife goes into the soft underneck of the veering fish… Its mouthful of teeth, each tooth a dagger itself, set row on row, glistens when the shuddering, yawning cadaver is hauled up by the brothers of the swimmer.

Outside in the street is the murmur and singing of life in the sun—horses, motors, women trapsing along in flimsy clothes, play of sun-fire in their blood.

Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight

(In Springfield, Illinois)
 
It is portentous, and a thing of state   
That here at midnight, in our little town   
A mourning figure walks, and will not rest,   
Near the old court-house pacing up and down,   
   
Or by his homestead, or in shadowed yards
He lingers where his children used to play,   
Or through the market, on the well-worn stones   
He stalks until the dawn-stars burn away.   
   
A bronzed, lank man! His suit of ancient black,   
A famous high top-hat and plain worn shawl
Make him the quaint great figure that men love,   
The prairie-lawyer, master of us all.   
   
He cannot sleep upon his hillside now.   
He is among us:—as in times before!   
And we who toss and lie awake for long,
Breathe deep, and start, to see him pass the door.   
   
His head is bowed. He thinks of men and kings.   
Yea, when the sick world cries, how can he sleep?   
Too many peasants fight, they know not why;   
Too many homesteads in black terror weep.
   
The sins of all the war-lords burn his heart.   
He sees the dreadnaughts scouring every main.   
He carries on his shawl-wrapped shoulders now   
The bitterness, the folly and the pain.   
   
He cannot rest until a spirit-dawn
Shall come;—the shining hope of Europe free:   
A league of sober folk, the Workers' Earth,   
Bringing long peace to Cornland, Alp and Sea.   
   
It breaks his heart that things must murder still,   
That all his hours of travail here for men
Seem yet in vain. And who will bring white peace   
That he may sleep upon his hill again?