Four Preludes on Playthings of the Wind

Carl Sandburg

 
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.
 

Poems by This Author

At a Window by Carl Sandburg
Give me hunger
Autumn Movement by Carl Sandburg
I cried over beautiful things knowing no beautiful thing lasts
Back Yard by Carl Sandburg
Shine on, O moon of summer
Caboose Thoughts by Carl Sandburg
It's going to come out all right—do you know
Cahoots by Carl Sandburg
Play it across the table
Chicago by Carl Sandburg
Hog Butcher for the World,
Fire Dreams by Carl Sandburg
I remember here by the fire
Fog by Carl Sandburg
The fog comes
Follies by Carl Sandburg
Shaken
Grass by Carl Sandburg
Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo
Handfuls by Carl Sandburg
Blossoms of babies
Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio by Carl Sandburg
It's a jazz affair, drum crashes and cornet razzes.
How Much? by Carl Sandburg
How much do you love me, a million bushels
I am the People, the Mob by Carl Sandburg
I am the people--the mob--the crowd--the mass.
In a Breath by Carl Sandburg
High noon. White sun flashes on the Michigan Avenue asphalt
Languages by Carl Sandburg
There are no handles upon a language
Loam by Carl Sandburg
In the loam we sleep
Mag by Carl Sandburg
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
Poems Done on a Late Night Car by Carl Sandburg
I am The Great White Way of the city
Prayers of Steel by Carl Sandburg
Lay me on an anvil, O God
Remorse by Carl Sandburg
The horse's name was Remorse
Summer Stars by Carl Sandburg
Bend low again, night of summer stars
Testament by Carl Sandburg
I give the undertakers permission to haul my body
Theme in Yellow by Carl Sandburg
I spot the hills
Under the Harvest Moon by Carl Sandburg
Under the harvest moon
Wilderness by Carl Sandburg
There is a wolf in me
Window by Carl Sandburg
Night from a railroad car window


Further Reading

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