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About this Poem 

“Work Gangs” was published in Smoke and Steel (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1920). 

Work Gangs

Box cars run by a mile long.
And I wonder what they say to each other
When they stop a mile long on a sidetrack.
  Maybe their chatter goes:
I came from Fargo with a load of wheat up to the danger line.
I came from Omaha with a load of shorthorns and they
    splintered my boards.
I came from Detroit heavy with a load of flivvers.
I carried apples from the Hood river last year and this year
    bunches of bananas from Florida; they look for me with
    watermelons from Mississippi next year.
 
Hammers and shovels of work gangs sleep in shop corners
when the dark stars come on the sky and the night watchmen
    walk and look.
 
Then the hammer heads talk to the handles,
then the scoops of the shovels talk,
how the day’s work nicked and trimmed them,
how they swung and lifted all day,
how the hands of the work gangs smelled of hope.  
In the night of the dark stars
when the curve of the sky is a work gang handle,
in the night on the mile long sidetracks,
in the night where the hammers and shovels sleep in corners,
the night watchmen stuff their pipes with dreams—
and sometimes they doze and don’t care for nothin’,
and sometimes they search their heads for meanings, stories,
    stars.
  The stuff of it runs like this:
A long way we come; a long way to go; long rests and long deep
    sniffs for our lungs on the way.
Sleep is a belonging of all; even if all songs are old songs and
    the singing heart is snuffed out like a switchman’s lantern
    with the oil gone, even if we forget our names and houses in
    the finish, the secret of sleep is left us, sleep belongs to all,
    sleep is the first and last and best of all.        
  
People singing; people with song mouths connecting with song
    hearts; people who must sing or die; people whose song
    hearts break if there is no song mouth; these are my people.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on September 7, 2015, by the Academy of American Poets.

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was awarded three Pulitzer Prizes in his lifetime—the first in 1919 for his poetry collection Corn Huskers, the second in 1940 for his biography Abraham Lincoln: The War Years, and the third in 1951 for Complete Poems.

by this poet

poem

     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

poem

The lawyers, Bob, know too much.
They are chums of the books of the old John Marshall.
They know it all, what a dead hand wrote,
A stiff dead hand and its knuckles crumbling,
The bones of the fingers a thin white ash.
       The lawyers know
       a dead man’s thoughts too well.

poem

Passers-by,
Out of your many faces
Flash memories to me
Now at the day end
Away from the sidewalks
Where your shoe soles traveled
And your voices rose and blent
To form the city’s afternoon roar
Hindering an old silence.

Passers-by,
I remember lean ones among you,