poem index

People Watching

Images that capture the human spirit and psyche.
People Watching
next
Listening to jazz now
Jimmy Santiago Baca, 1952
1. 

Listening to jazz now, I'm happy
     sun shining outside like it was my lifetime achievement award.
                I'm happy,
with my friend and her dog up in Durango, her emailing
     me this morning
no coon hound ailing yowls
vibrant I love yous.
        I'm happy,
        my smile a big Monarch butterfly
        after having juiced up some carrots, garlic, seaweed,
        I stroll the riverbank, lazy as a deep cello
in a basement bar-- 

                   smoke, cagney'd out patrons
                   caramel and chocolate women in black
                             shoulder strap satin dresses,
                   and red high heels.
People Watching
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Honky Tonk in Cleveland, Ohio
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
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.
People Watching
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To a Poor Old Woman
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
munching a plum on 
the street a paper bag
of them in her hand

They taste good to her
They taste good 
to her. They taste
good to her

You can see it by
the way she gives herself
to the one half
sucked out in her hand

Comforted
a solace of ripe plums
seeming to fill the air
They taste good to her
People Watching
next
Madam and the Phone Bill
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967
You say I O.K.ed
LONG DISTANCE?
O.K.ed it when?
My goodness, Central
That was then!

I'm mad and disgusted
With that Negro now.
I don't pay no REVERSED
CHARGES nohow.

You say, I will pay it—
Else you'll take out my phone?
You better let
My phone alone.

I didn't ask him
To telephone me.
Roscoe knows darn well
LONG DISTANCE
Ain't free.

If I ever catch him,
Lawd, have pity!
Calling me up
From Kansas City.

Just to say he loves me!
I knowed that was so.
Why didn't he tell me some'n
I don't know?

For instance, what can
Them other girls do
That Alberta K. Johnson
Can't do—and more, too?

What's that, Central?
You say you don't care
Nothing about my
Private affair?

Well, even less about your
PHONE BILL, does I care!

Un-humm-m! . . . Yes!
You say I gave my O.K.?
Well, that O.K. you may keep—

But I sure ain't gonna pay!
People Watching
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the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962
the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls
are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds
(also, with the church's protestant blessings
daughters, unscented shapeless spirited)
they believe in Christ and Longfellow,both dead,
are invariably interested in so many things-
at the present writing one still finds
delighted fingers knitting for the is it Poles?
perhaps.   While permanent faces coyly bandy
scandal of Mrs. N and Professor D
....the Cambridge ladies do not care,above
Cambridge if sometimes in its box of
sky lavender and cornerless, the
moon rattles like a fragment of angry candy
People Watching
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What is Broken is What God Blesses
Jimmy Santiago Baca, 1952
   The lover's footprint in the sand
   the ten-year-old kid's bare feet
in the mud picking chili for rich growers,
not those seeking cultural or ethnic roots,
but those whose roots
have been exposed, hacked, dug up and burned
			and in those roots
			do animals burrow for warmth;
what is broken is blessed,
	not the knowledge and empty-shelled wisdom
	paraphrased from textbooks,
		not the mimicking nor plaques of distinction
		nor the ribbons and medals
but after the privileged carriage has passed
	the breeze blows traces of wheel ruts away
	and on the dust will again be the people's broken
							footprints.
What is broken God blesses,
	not the perfectly brick-on-brick prison
	but the shattered wall
	that announces freedom to the world,
proclaims the irascible spirit of the human
rebelling against lies, against betrayal,
against taking what is not deserved;
	the human complaint is what God blesses,
	our impoverished dirt roads filled with cripples,
what is broken is baptized,
	the irreverent disbeliever,
	the addict's arm seamed with needle marks
		is a thread line of a blanket
	frayed and bare from keeping the man warm.
We are all broken ornaments,
		glinting in our worn-out work gloves,
		foreclosed homes, ruined marriages,
from which shimmer our lives in their deepest truths,
blood from the wound,
				broken ornaments—
when we lost our perfection and honored our imperfect sentiments, we were
blessed.
Broken are the ghettos, barrios, trailer parks where gangs duel to death,
yet through the wretchedness a woman of sixty comes riding her rusty bicycle,
			we embrace
			we bury in our hearts,
broken ornaments, accused, hunted, finding solace and refuge
		we work, we worry, we love
		but always with compassion
		reflecting our blessings—
			in our brokenness
			thrives life, thrives light, thrives
				the essence of our strength,
					each of us a warm fragment,
					broken off from the greater
					ornament of the unseen,
					then rejoined as dust,
					to all this is.
People Watching
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maggie and milly and molly and may
E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962
              10

maggie and milly and molly and may 
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang 
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing 
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone 
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose(like a you or a me) 
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

People Watching
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To Elsie
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
The pure products of America
go crazy—
mountain folk from Kentucky

or the ribbed north end of 
Jersey
with its isolate lakes and

valleys, its deaf-mutes, thieves
old names
and promiscuity between

devil-may-care men who have taken
to railroading
out of sheer lust of adventure—

and young slatterns, bathed
in filth
from Monday to Saturday

to be tricked out that night
with gauds
from imaginations which have no

peasant traditions to give them
character
but flutter and flaunt

sheer rags-succumbing without
emotion
save numbed terror

under some hedge of choke-cherry
or viburnum-
which they cannot express—

Unless it be that marriage
perhaps
with a dash of Indian blood

will throw up a girl so desolate
so hemmed round
with disease or murder

that she'll be rescued by an 
agent—
reared by the state and

sent out at fifteen to work in
some hard-pressed
house in the suburbs—

some doctor's family, some Elsie—
voluptuous water
expressing with broken

brain the truth about us—
her great
ungainly hips and flopping breasts

addressed to cheap
jewelry
and rich young men with fine eyes

as if the earth under our feet
were
an excrement of some sky

and we degraded prisoners
destined
to hunger until we eat filth

while the imagination strains
after deer
going by fields of goldenrod in

the stifling heat of September
Somehow
it seems to destroy us

It is only in isolate flecks that
something
is given off

No one
to witness
and adjust, no one to drive the car
People Watching
next
I am the People, the Mob
Carl Sandburg, 1878 - 1967
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.
People Watching
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Danse Russe
William Carlos Williams, 1883 - 1963
If when my wife is sleeping
and the baby and Kathleen
are sleeping
and the sun is a flame-white disc
in silken mists
above shining trees,-
if I in my north room
dance naked, grotesquely
before my mirror
waving my shirt round my head
and singing softly to myself:
"I am lonely, lonely,
I was born to be lonely,
I am best so!"
If I admire my arms, my face,
my shoulders, flanks, buttocks
against the yellow drawn shades,-

Who shall say I am not
the happy genius of my household?
People Watching
next
I'm Nobody! Who are you? (260)
Emily Dickinson, 1830 - 1886
I'm Nobody! Who are you?
Are you – Nobody – too?
Then there's a pair of us!
Don't tell! they'd advertise – you know!

How dreary – to be – Somebody!
How public – like a Frog –  
To tell one's name – the livelong June –  
To an admiring Bog!