A Celebration of Women Writers


POEMS FROM
A POCKETFUL OF PEBBLES

by "Jan Struther"
(Joyce Maxtone Graham, later Mrs A. K. Placzek, 1901-1953)
author of Mrs. Miniver.

Copyright, the Estate of Jan Struther, 1946.
This authorised internet edition was published with the permission of the Maxtone Graham family, and the assistance of Joyce Maxtone Graham's son, Robert Maxtone Graham, in 2001.
It is illegal to reproduce this work without permission.


PRELIMINARY NOTES
to the Internet Edition
by the author's son, Robert Maxtone Graham, 2001.

This internet edition contains poems selected from Jan Struther's collection of poems and prose, "A Pocketful of Pebbles", Harcourt, Brace & Company, New York, 1946. It excludes poems already published in on-line editions of her earlier volumes, Betsinda Dances and Sycamore Square, and prose already published in her earlier volume, Try Anything Twice. The table of contents has been reorganized to show only those selections included.


CONTENTS

POETRY IN ENGLAND

Good-bye to Grock
Thomas Alva Edison
On a Famous Gangster
The First Supper
Tinker, Tailor . . .
Signs of the Zodiac
Miss Pink
Christmas Pudding

POETRY IN AMERICA

A Londoner in New England
Travelling America
The Return of Poetry
The American Way of Life
For Stephen Vincent Benét
Wartime Journey
The Three Sailors
Eve of Citizenship
Going Home
R.F.D.
At Sea
Air Port
Jungle
The Sage
All Clear


POETRY IN ENGLAND


GOOD-BYE TO GROCK

[The Swiss-born clown, 1880-1959–R.M.G.]

WE WEEP, when taking leave of summer,
A real but not too bitter tear,
For, though our fingers now grow number,
We know she'll come again next year;
To bid farewell to home and friends and riches
Seems far less hard a knock
Than that unkindest blow of fortune which is
Upon us when we say good-bye to GROCK.

"Fed up with stage, hotels and travel,"
Alas! the Master does not choose
To plant again on alien gravel
Those flapping, flat, fantastic shoes;
No more shall highbrows throng with low and medium
To hail, from pit and stall,
That great oasis in their world of tedium,
The broadest, baldest, highest brow of all.

No more in tights that sag and wrinkle
About his lean ungainly shanks
He'll play for us with solemn twinkle
His Grockenspiel, his Merry Pranks,
Or stretch that V-shaped smile across the middle
Of his elastic face,
Or proudly lift a Lilliputian fiddle
Out of a Brobdingnagian week-end case.

For now, with wizard concertina,
Vast overcoat and cotton gloves,
He leaves the music-hall's arena
To seek the solitude he loves;
And, if on that remote Italian sea-board
He sometimes, after tea,
Toboggans down the cover of the keyboard
To fetch his hat, we shan't be there to see.

Good-bye for ever? There's no telling;
But when the GROCK-less years are past
And high above our earthly dwelling
We sit among the gods at last,
In Paradise, I think, or not far from it,
We'll see the Immortal Fool
Bringing once more the mountain to MAHOMET,
Dragging the grand-piano to the stool.


THOMAS ALVA EDISON

1847-1931

HIS GENIUS he was quite content
In one brief sentence to define:
"Of inspiration one per cent,
Of perspiration ninety-nine."

A humble boast: but humbler yet
We felt, who heard, and knew full fine
One drop of that immortal sweat
Was worth a sea of yours or mine.


ON A FAMOUS GANGSTER

("Al Capone is killing time in prison."–Daily Paper.)

THEY say he's killing time while he's "inside";
   A game of skill, and surely no one's got
      A fitter brain than his to play and win it.
He takes the tedious hours for a ride,
   Puts the unwanted seconds on the spot
      And skilfully bumps off each weary minute;
Yet in the end, like humbler men, he'll writhe
And drop his "gat" before his victim's scythe.


THE FIRST SUPPER

AT THE First Supper
The guest were but one:
A maiden was the hostess,
The guest her son.

At the First Supper
No candles were lit:
In darkness hay-scented
They both did sit.

At the First Supper
No table was spread:
In the curve of her elbow
She laid his head.

At the First Supper
They poured no wine:
On milk of the rarest
The guest did dine.

She held him very closely
Against her breast,
Her fair one, her dear one,
Her darling guest;

She held him very closely,
Guessing that this
Is the last that any mother
May know of bliss.


TINKER, TAILOR . . .

"THE GIRL who marries a Tinker,
   She never shall want for tin;
      Her coppers and cans
      And her platters and pans
   Shall shine like a new-made pin."
"What, marry a Tinker? Certainly not!
Be off with you now with your kettle and pot."

"The girl who marries a Tailor
   Shall never be short of a gown;
      For he'll make her a frock
      Or a dimity smock
   Whenever she goes to town."
"What, marry a Tailor? I'd sooner be dead!
Be off with you now with your needle and thread."

"The girl who marries a Soldier
   Shall never sit moping-mum,
      But march through life
      To the skirl of the fife
   And the tap of the light-heart drum."
"What, marry a Soldier and mourn for him soon?
Be off with you now, my gallant Dragoon."

"The girl who marries a Sailor
   Shall never wish him away,
      But count every tide
      Till he's back at her side
   (Which is more than some wives can say)."
"What, marry a Sailor? I know what they are!
Be off with you now, my bold Jack Tar."

"The girl who marries a Rich Man
   Shall have her lightest wish;
      She shall bed her on silk
      And bathe her in milk
   And eat from a jewelled dish."
"What, marry a Rich Man? Much too old!
Be off with you now with your silver and gold."

"The girl who marries a Poor Man
   Shall sleep both safe and sound;
      For too much gear
      Brings trouble and fear
   As many a maid has found."
"What, marry a Poor Man? Worse and worse!
Be off with you now with your penniless purse."

"The girl who marries a Ploughboy
   Shall never grow peaked nor pale,
      But breathe sweet air
      And dance at the fair
   And drink good home-brewed ale."
What, marry a Ploughboy? Not if I'm paid!
Be off with you all–I'll be buried a maid."

The Thief stood near and the Thief he heard;
The Thief he said not a single word;
But he stole a kiss and he stole a second
He stole so many they couldn't be reckoned,
And after that, at the break of day,
With her heart in his pocket he stole away.
And that's what comes of leaving eight
Cherry-stones on the side of your plate. . . .


SIGNS OF THE ZODIAC

AQUARIUS

IN JANUARY comes the man
Who bears the giant Watering Can;
Then down your close-shut window-panes
Stream the relentless winter rains.

PISCES

And in the flood that follows him
The glittering Fishes idly swim–
Dispassionate, aloof, apart,
And cold as February's heart.

ARIES

In March, when equinoctial gales
Flutter the catkins' golden tails,
Comes Aries, the Ram of Rams,
And watches o'er the skipping lambs.

TAURUS

When April's hands with flowers are full
Appears the black and burly Bull;
He walks unchallenged on the hills
And browses mid the daffodils.

GEMINI

And next the blessed reign begins
Of those arch-rogues, the Heavenly Twins;
A thousand childish pranks they play
Under the loaded boughs of May.

CANCER

Then comes the sideways scuttling Crab
With cunning claws outstretched to grab
Incautious heels, unwary toes–
For June hides thorns in every rose.

LEO

Through the dark thickets of July
A sultry roaring sound draws nigh.
"Thunder!" say some; but others swear
They saw the Lion leave his lair.

VIRGO

Next comes a Maiden, brown as berry,
Bidding all maids and men make merry
And run together, hand in hand,
Along the golden August sand.

LIBRA

And now, beneath an orange moon,
With clinking can and rousing tune
We weigh upon September's Scales
The gathered harvest of the dales.

SCORPIO

October's face, benign and mellow,
Turns nuts to brown and leaves to yellow;
But (like the Scorpion, sting in tail)
He ends with frost and scourging hail.

SAGITTARIUS

November's Archer next we see
Shoot down the leaves from every tree.
Straight as an arrow from the bow
From dyke to fence the plough must go.

CAPRICORNUS

Last comes the Goat, that sapient fool,
Lord of carousal and misrule,
Skipping with quite impartial mirth
O'er Old Year's death and New Year's birth.


MISS PINK

MISS PINK plays Patience every night
On a green board by candle-light.
She plays "The Clock," she plays "The Square,"
"The Patchwork Quilt," "The Winding Stair,"
"Marplot," "Milligan," "Richmond Hill,"
"Bonaparte," "Canfield," and "Double Quadrille."
Murmuring, "Five, four, three, two, Ace;
Black on red, and King in the space."
   "What waste of time!" the neighbours think!
They do not know the real Miss Pink.
She's always loved romantic scenes;
She longs to mix with Kings and Queens,
And something in her darkly craves
To flirt with bold outrageous knaves;
But somehow she has never met
A real live Royalty nor yet
Been offered ropes of flawless pearls
By rich disreputable Earls.
   (A curate, once, was on the brink
   Of a proposal to Miss Pink.)
So every evening she surveys
With secret pride her square of baize–
Her little world of Queens and Kings
Where she alone can pull the strings.
She makes their destinies work out
By shifting humbler folk about;
And now and then, I must admit,
She cheats a tiny, tiny bit.
   "Such waste of time!" the neighbours think;
   "But there–what's time to poor Miss Pink?"


CHRISTMAS PUDDING

DON'T forget the raisins and the cinnamon;
Don't forget the nutmeg and the spice;
Don't forget the candy-peel, the currants and the brandy
(Or better still, the rum–that's my advice).
Then stir it with a spoon that's large and wooden
Till you haven't any strength left in your arms;
But above all, when you make a Christmas pudden,
Be certain that you don't forget the charms.

         Who bites on the wishbone
         His dreams shall come true:
         He shall get what he wishes
         Without more ado.
         But whether 'twill bring him
         Contentment or woe
         Is a thing that no pudding
         Can possibly know.

         Who bites on the ring
         Shall be wed without fail
         In a white satin gown
         And her grandmother's veil;
         And the parson who weds her
         Shall murmur with pride,
         "Well, I never clapped eyes on
         A bonnier bride."

         Who bites on the button
         Shall never take wife
         But live a gay bachelor
         All of his life;
         And he'll think, as he sips
         His expensive Tokay,
         "There's no one, I'll wager,
         So lucky as I."

         Who bites on the thimble
         Shall live by herself
         With a cat on the mat
         And a clock on the shelf.
         And she'll think, as she sups
         On a poached egg and tea,
         "Well, it's much to be wed,
         But it's more to be free."

         The person who bites on
         The threepenny bit
         For love and for liberty
         Cares not a whit,
         But boasts, as he counts up
         His gathering gold,
         "Well, mine is a luck
         That'll never grow cold."

So–don't forget the raisins and the cinnamon;
Don't forget the nutmeg and the spice;
Don't forget the candy-peel, the currants and the brandy
(Or better still, the rum–that's my advice).
Then stir it with a spoon that's large and wooden
Till you haven't any strength left in your arms:
But above all, when you make a Christmas pudden,
Be certain that you don't forget the charms!


POETRY IN AMERICA


A LONDONER IN NEW ENGLAND, 1941

I WAS a citizen, once, of a great city.
   Its buildings were of mellowed brick and of weathered stone.
I woke up every morning to its sparrows' chatter
   And lay down every evening to its traffic's drone.

It had its faults. It was shabby in parts, and sooty;
   Its water-front could have done with tidying up.
It was shapeless and vast: but I loved it like a village.
   It was my home. It held my life like a cup.

Its sky-signs were my earliest constellations.
   My nursery-rhymes were the legends of the town.
I sang, "London's burning, London's burning."
   I sang, "London Bridge is falling down."

I learned to walk and talk there. By its times, its spaces,
   Are measured forever my thoughts of space and time.
A hundred yards is the length of the Square garden:
   An hour is Big Ben's chime to Big Ben's chime.

Its seasons are my seasons. For me, winter
   Is the sound of a muffin-bell through the gathering dark;
And spring, for me, is neither a lamb nor a primrose,
   But a crocus down by the lake in St. James' Park.

Summer's the smell and the feel of hot asphalt,
   With costers selling geraniums down the street;
Autumn, for me, is a bonfire in Kensington Gardens,
   And the rustle of plane-leaves over the children's feet.

It is peaceful here. Yet here, where maple and sumach
   Cut unfamiliar patterns on a moonlit sky,
I am a citizen still of the same city:
   I feel its houses crumble and its people die.

Heavy at heart, I lie awake at midnight
   And hear a voice, five hours nearer the sun,
Speaking across the ether from a grim daybreak,
   Calmly reciting what the night has done.

I think, "London's burning, London's burning."
   I think, "London Bridge is falling down."
Then something wiser than thought says, "Heart, take comfort:
   Buildings and bridges do not make a town.

"A city is greater than its bricks and mortar;
   It is greater than tower or palace, church or hall:
A city's as great as the little people that live there.
   You know those people. How can London fall?"


TRAVELLING AMERICA

TRAVELLING America, I am England-haunted.
   I seek new landscapes out of the window of the train,
But wherever I look, an England enlarged, transplanted,
   Springs to my sight, and carries me home again.

The clapboard house in a Massachusetts village
   Is a weatherboard house in Essex. From both, men sail
To plough their lives away in a dangerous tillage;
   In both, wives lie uneasy, an ear on the gale.

The Pennsylvania meadows are green and quiet
   As Penn's own meadows three thousand miles away;
The cattle browse, and the honeysuckles riot,
   And the streams run slow, and slow men cart the hay.

In Chesapeake Bay the woods come down to the water,
   Feathery-soft in the moonlight as funeral plumes:
I think of a small mother with a well-grown daughter,
   And remember the Devon coast and the wooded combes.

The Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge lying
   Beyond it, the sound of crickets and whippoorwills–
This is the valley of Avon, with plovers crying,
   And daylight dying over the Malvern Hills.

Southward. Kentucky. Small fields, steep and stony;
   Patient eyes staring from a rickety shack.
(I've seen those eyes in Scotland, and the one cow bony,
   And the stunted crops, raised with a breaking back.)

Mobile. Biloxi. Rose-pink water-mallow
   Along the Gulf, in the marshes of Pontchartrain.
(The marshes of Kent are smaller; their creeks run shallow;
   Their mallow-blooms are paler, and wet with rain.)

The grazing lands . . . It is only the size that varies.
   Mind's eye sees colour and shape, but has no scale:
It can gather the length and breadth of Nebraska's prairies
   On the fells of Yorkshire, hard by Arkendale.

The orchards of Michigan and Minnesota
   Are Hereford apple-orchards in blossomtime;
And, climbing the long Black Hills of South Dakota,
   It is still the Monadhliath that I climb.

But here, in the Southwest, opening my eyes on
   Vermilion mesas rising from painted sands,
I have found at last a land with a new horizon,
   A land which holds no echoes of other lands.

Here are cactus and thorn, with nightmare flowers;
   Basalt and gypsum; trees long turned to stone.
Over the dried arroyo the red cliff towers:
   Here is nothing familiar, nothing known.

Silence, and sun, and sand. The lizards flicker.
   Ghostly and restless rolls the tumbleweed.
The eyes that gaze from the scattered huts of wicker
   Are the secret eyes of an ancient and secret breed.

This is a country of dream, a world enchanted,
   Improbable, fantastic, a wild release.
Here, and here alone, I can walk unhaunted.
   I shall stay here long. Strangeness, at last, brings peace.


THE RETURN OF POETRY

SHE HAS come back, the shy one
   Who carried me so far,
The nimble one, the spry one,
   Whose eye is like a star,
And white as milk and smooth as silk
   Her flanks and muzzle are.

Her saddle and her bridle
   For seven years have lain
Waiting, forlorn and idle,
   Till she should come again.
I mended them, and tended them,
   And waited, but in vain.

Sweet hay was in her manger,
   Soft bedding in her stall:
She chose to play the ranger,
   She would not heed my call.
I strained my ear each day to hear
   Her light, light hoof-beats fall.

On Prose, her coal-black brother,
   I rode, and did not tire
(Born of the self-same mother
   But of less proud a sire,
He has the pace without the grace,
   The force without the fire).

Through anxious days and stormy
   He neither failed nor fell;
On his broad back he bore me
   Both patiently and well:
But never yet his hoofs were set
   In fields of asphodel.

He'd post along the highways,
   Looking to left nor right,
And through the quiet byways
   He'd bring me home at night–
Yet never scale the rocky trail
   To the bare hills of delight.

She has come back, the shy one
   Who stayed so long away;
The nimble one, the spry one,
   The seven-years-astray.
Now will she hide? Or will she bide
   A twelve-month–or a day?

Good Black, rest in your stable.
   We'll ride again some time:
But now, while I am able
   On rhythm shod with rhyme,
On a milk-white mare with hoofs of air
   What mountains shall I climb!


THE AMERICAN WAY OF LIFE

I MET an old man
   The other day:
His eyes were small
   And sharp and grey;
His paunch was fat
   And his lips were thin,
And his cheeks were as dry
   As a rattler's skin.
And all the time
   As he talked and ate,
In went victuals
   And out came hate.
Like a burst of hail,
   Like a creek in spate–
His own particular
   Hymn of Hate.

"I don't know whether
   You share my views,
But it makes me mad
   When I read the news.
Helping the Russians
   And helping the Jews . . .
Rationing sugar
   And rationing shoes . . .
All these orders
   And all these bans . . .
Cutting out coupons
   And counting cans . . .
Oh, I know–the war . . .
   And I know–Lease-Lend . . .
But where is the whole thing
   Going to end?
I view with fear
   And deep misgiving
This change for the worse
   In our manner of living:
In fact, as I frequently say to my wife,
We're in danger of losing our own way of life–
            Our own,
            Known,
            Sure,
            Secure,
Great American Way of Life."

Said I to him,
   "Well, that may be.
I'm only a guest
   From across the sea,
And I've only been here
   Two years or three;
But this is the way
   It seems to me:

"The men who founded
   And built this land–
They didn't do it
   On food that was canned,
But on home-made broth
   And home-cooked hash
And hominy grits
   And succotash.
The men who trudged
   Through Cumberland Gap
Wore buckskin boots
   And a coonskin cap;
And the men who crossed
   The Great Divide,
They slept rolled up
   In a buffalo hide.

The things they owned
   Were simple and few;
They used them well
   And they made them do;
It wasn't a case
   Of 'Throw it away,'
But of 'Fix it to last
   For another day.'
They made their own songs
   And they loved to sing 'em;
They thought their wives
   Looked fine in gingham;
And, though they ached
   From their own day's labours,
They were never too tired
   To help their neighbours.
They'd strength in their arms
   And breadth in their backs;
They won this land
   With rifle and axe,
They followed their stars
   And they earned their stripes,
And they didn't have time
   For groans and gripes.

"Now I've travelled this land
   Two years or three;
I love it next
   To my own countree;
And from what I hear.
   And from what I see,
This is the way
   It seems to me:

"Something was lost–
   Not lost, but hidden,
Like a sleeping hound
   That wakes when it's bidden;
But out of this danger and out of this strife
Is springing afresh your own way of life–
            The plain,
            Sane,
            Old,
            Bold,
True American Way of Life."


FOR STEPHEN VINCENT BENÉT

JULY 22ND, 1898-MARCH 13TH, 1943

WHEN the news came that Steve Benét was dead,
We were stunned. There was nothing to be said.
And then came weeping
That kept us from sleeping
At night, and woke us when dawn was creeping
Down from the roof-tops to the empty street
And light went sweeping
From Maine to California, across
The coal, the corn, the cattle and the wheat
In a westward rush of gold. And then our loss
Sank deeper in, and words began to come
To us, who had been numb.
Trite words at first. "He died before his time. . . "
"A tragic loss . . ." "A man just in his prime. . . "
All the poor platitudes that pass our lips
Because we've let our busy-ness eclipse
Great words–as worn coins pass from hand to hand
While precious ore lies buried in the land.
But now a week has passed;
The earth has spun
Seven times in her slow dance around the sun;
And now the disused shafts are cleared at last:
Now we can start
To mine those long-lost words out of the heart.

He was a great poet and a great man.
He fought without hating, as a poet can.
His lance was free: he held it firm and level
Against the demagogue, against the devil,
Against the foul, the false, the fool, the brute,
Against the lifted eyebrow and the trampling boot.
He fought with poise and grace, piercing, not smiting;
He could fight because he knew what he was fighting.
He knew these things, which others only guess:
That the enemy is not the "No," but the idle "Yes";
That the blind heart is worse than the blind eye,
And the half-truth more dangerous than the lie.

He understood and knew
The Gentile and the Jew–
The Gentile, against whom there is no grudge,
Who is spared the snide crack and the sly nudge:
The Jew, whose breed is written on his face,
Who walks in company, yet walks alone,
Who knows the world will judge
His every word and deed, not as his own,
But as the words and deeds of all his race:
The Jew, with his sorrowful heart and his quickened sight.
He knew the Black and the White,
And knew, under their skins, that both are brindled.
He knew what kindled
The white cold fire of the North;
And he knew the South,
With a rose in its hair and honey in its mouth.
He knew the taste of the Tidewater East,
Brackish with Europe's salt. He knew the yeast
That worked in men and drove them from their home
Across the wilderness, across the plain,
(Half for the hell of it and half for gain)
To where the Rockies shine like frozen foam.
Knowing America, he knew the Earth–
Its life, death, dissolution and rebirth:
For here's the world in miniature, with all
Its calms and storms, its sweetness and its gall.
He knew what didn't count, he knew what counted;
He was splendidly armed, magnificently mounted:
His horse was named Heart's Charity;
His lance, Mind's Clarity.

Stephen Benét is dead. Weep, friends, for verse,
And, which is worse,
Weep too for gentleness, and weep for peace,
And kindly decent ways, and the release
Of a sick world that's tortured and in thrall.
Weep, friends . . .
                        And yet– No! do not weep at all.
Our ranks are thinned, not broken, by his death.
When a great poet dies, his living breath
Flies on invisible wing
To lesser poets, helping them to sing.
All poetry is one: it is a spring,
Enchanted, subterranean, which lies
At the earth's core. Nothing can clog or close
That strong clear pure upwelling. Seal one source
And all the rest will flow with surer force.
Its power is infinite. It finds its way
Down steep and rocky glens,
Gathering headway. Harnessed, it can cleanse
This blood-stained world. A poet's his own master
And his own slave. We others must work faster
And harder yet, to sweep away disaster.
You have given us strength.
                        We thank you, Steve Benét.


WARTIME JOURNEY

THE WESTBOUND train is running four hours late.
A dozen times at least it's pulled into a siding,
And the passengers listen, and wonder,
And listen, and wait
For the growing thunder and then the dying thunder
Of troop train or freight
Taking the right of way.
The conductor's an old man, patient and grey:
He's ridden this road for thirty years or more,
And he knows the score.
"Yes, Sir,
Wartime riding's not like peacetime riding."

Five hours late, and crowded. At the end of the aisle
There's a girl with blonde hair and a tired smile,
Writing V-mail to a boy gone overseas.
There's a woman with a fretful baby on her knees:
His dad's not seen him; she's travelled a night and a day;
The Army camp is three nights more away.
Servicemen: a bunch of young trainees–
Through with their basic, but no insignia to show it
Except hands calloused, shoulders broadened by drill–
Eyeing with frank respect
The man in new civilians, whose chest is decked
With a ribbon, and his face with a fresh-healed scar.
He stares in front of him, not at the railroad car
But at jungles and fever-swamps in the South Seas.
For him it's over, but his buddies are there still,
Sweating, fighting, dying or dead. He is tall,
And walks with a limp when he fetches a drink of water.
He's the only one in the coach who has known slaughter,
But the others will know it, or their men will know it,
In a few months, less or more,
And they know the score.
"Yes, Ma'am.
This war, 't ain't just the menfolk's war."

Six hours late. The slim quicksilver bar
On the wall of the coach has climbed to ninety-four.
It isn't a real coach, but a baggage car
Hauled from retirement, fixed to meet the rush:
The seats are upright, covered in dirty plush;
The sides, windowless iron, vibrate with the heat.
In back, two businessmen unfasten their collars
And loosen their shoes to ease their swollen feet.
They missed the Limited–scrambled on at a run.
"This is a hell of a train," says the paunchy one.
"I wouldn't take it again for a thousand dollars."
But the thin one has a son
In Africa or the Arctic (he doesn't know which–
This is a crazy war),
And to him it doesn't matter any more
Whether he travels the poor man's way or the rich.
He knows the score.
"Yes, Sir.
Folks know things now they never knew before."

Seven hours late. The lamps begin to dim.
("This is a borrowed car from another road:
The lights don't jibe–they'll fold up pretty soon,"
The conductor says, when the fat man rails at him.)
"This is the damnedest train–let's sit in the diner."
But the other grins, retorting,
"We got no diner. This ain't the Streamliner."
So he pipes down. There's some Scotch in one of his grips,
And when it's reached his lips
Often enough, he nods, and begins to snore.
The baby's sleeping now, its head at rest
Against the chain-store rayon of its mother's breast;
And she too drowses, wondering whether her Joe
Will be somebody changed, or the guy she used to know.
The blonde girl sleeps, her high-heeled, open-toed,
Frail shoes lolling over.
She dreams about her lover–
An evening at the movies, a soda, a juke-box tune,
And back-porch good-night kisses under the moon.
She knows the score.
"Yes, Ma'am.
Wartime courting's not like peacetime courting."

Eight hours late: and now there's no more light
At all, and the trainees sleep,
Dreaming of the dropped rifle and the Top Kick,
K.P., the G.I. boots, the bucking jeep,
The latrine rumour, the chow-hound and the gold-brick.
The thin man dreams of his son, freezing or sweating.
The fat man dreams of wealth, but now and again
Something breaks into his dream like a thief in the night,
And instead of begetting
Money, he's killing men.
The tall man stares before him: it'll take
Longer for him to sleep. The things he's seen
Lurk still behind his eyelids. He dare not drop them
In case those pictures haunt him–he cannot stop them.
He'd sooner stay awake.
But even he, lulled by the train's noise,
Sleeps fitfully at last, dreaming of boys
He knew who will not any more
Discuss the double-header at the corner store.
All of these know the score.
"Yes, Sir. Yes, Ma'am.
This war–seems like it's everybody's war."

Nine hours late: and even that ill-matched couple
On the front seat–the lady with the blue-white hair
And the young Negro soldier, silent and supple–
Who, at the journey's start,
Sat ramrod straight, aware of one another
Beyond invisible bars, sister and brother,
Both ill at case, yet both without escape
From a base-born, base-bred,
Nebulous, opposite yet identical dread
(He of a white folks' glance he's learned to fear,
She of a touch she feels is kin to rape)–
Even these two now sleep: they're drowned in peace,
White head and black head nodding an inch apart.
Exhaustion brings oblivion, lulls mistrust,
Falls blindly on the just and the unjust,
Quenches discrimination, gives release
From self-forged barriers to the human heart.
"Yes, Sir.
Seems like that's what's required.
I've ridden this road for thirty years or more
And I reckon I know the score.
Yes, Ma'am.
God keep us tired.
God keep us tired."


THE THREE SAILORS

I SAW three sailors drinking beer
   In a Seventh Avenue bar:
The first one had a parakeet
   And the second a new guitar–
But the third had nothing except a look
   That he'd brought back from afar
   Where the blood-stained islands are.

The first one talked with a mid-west burr;
   He was big and broad and fair;
The blue Great Lakes were in his eyes
   And Norway in his hair.
He came from a state where the earth lies flat
   As far as the eye can stare.
   He had a plainsman's air.

The second one was a mountain man
   And he spoke with a mountain drawl.
His hair was red and his eyes were green;
   He was narrow, and middling tall.
He was born with a chip on his shoulder-bone
   In a shack with a mud-chinked wall,
   Where the Blue Ridge foothills fall.

The third one's voice had an East Side tang:
   He was swarthy and slim and neat.
He was got in a Bowery rooming-house
   And born on Delancey Street,
Where the kids lie out on the fire-escapes
   At night, in the August heat,
   And the sidewalks scorch their feet.

The first was Olaf Christiansen;
   The second was Pat McCoy;
But the third was Simeon Salvator,
   The child of an hour of joy;
So some of the kids yelled "Wop" or "Kike,"
   And some of them whispered "Goy,"
   When he was a little boy.

Olaf's kin have ploughed their land
   For ninety years or more,
And Patrick's folks were backwoodsmen
   Before the Seven Years' War,
But Simeon's mother passed the Lamp
   Beside the Golden Door
   In nineteen three, or four.

Olaf played with the parakeet
   And tickled it with a straw.
It pecked a pretzel out of a dish
   And held it in its claw.
"Of all the gals in those gosh-darned Isles,
   She's the cutest one I saw–
   So I'm taking her home to Maw."

Patrick hitched his foot on the rail
   And tuned a slackened string.
He sang of the land where his forebears lived
   When George the Third was king,
Of the Bonnie Banks where "the broken heart
   It knows no second Spring"–
   The way all hillfolk sing.

But Simeon, he'd brought nothing back
   By way of a souvenir.
He'd scarcely heard of Dan'l Boone,
   He was hazy on Paul Revere,
And Ellis Island was where his folks
   Had faced their worst frontier;
   So he listened, and drank his beer.

Simeon, he'd brought nothing back
   He could carry in arm or hand,
But only something he'd never had
   And still didn't understand.
Through sweat and blood he'd begun to feel
   Like a man with a native land.
   It was new, and kind of grand.

I saw three sailors drinking beer
   In a Seventh Avenue bar.
The first one had a parakeet
   And the second a new guitar–
But the third had nothing except a look
   That he'd brought home from afar
   Where the blood-stained islands are.


EVE OF CITIZENSHIP

"It was so small, and so hopeless, but I loved it very much."
–An Austrian refugee, on the eve of obtaining U. S. citizenship.

TOMORROW they'll let me in. It's going to feel queer
   To be part of something again, to have a land,
When you've been "staatenlos" this many year.
   Oh, sure, it's grand. It's grand.
But just for tonight, leave me alone in here.
   You wouldn't understand.
It was little, and hopeless, but I held it very dear.

"Believe me, I'm not ungrateful, not for a minute.
   This is a beautiful place. I like it a lot.
It isn't perfect, but the seeds of perfection are in it,
   Instead of the seeds of rot.
We fought our fight against them, but we didn't begin it
   In time. We earned what we got.
It is bitter to fight a war and not to win it.

"But I was a child–and childhood doesn't care
   If a country is new and hopeful, or old and worn.
Childhood's the turning mill, the leaping hare,
   The wind blowing the corn,
The fir-trees by the lake. There was sweet air
   In the land where I was born.
It was small. It is lost. I had my childhood there.

"Tomorrow they'll let me in. Until I die
   I shall be faithful to my oath and bond.
I shall learn to love the lady by-and-by–
   The tall, kind, smiling blonde.
But tonight, let me alone. I am saying good-bye.
   She was little and I was fond
Of those thin dark arms in which I used to lie."


GOING HOME

WHEN my mother said Going Home, she meant yew hedges,
And peacocks on the lawn, and mullioned windows,
And the scent of dried lavender and dried rose-leaves
In china bowls on delicate lacquer tables;
And the butler bringing in the mahogany tea-tray
(Set with massive silver and miniature victuals),
Treading quietly over the bee's-waxed floor.
–And if you wanted more, you rang for more.

When I said Going Home–that is, in the old days–
I meant the paved street from the nearest bus-stop
To the little house with the pointed iron railings,
The children waving out of the nursery window,
The narrow hall with the letters on the table
(Bills, unpayable–open them tomorrow),
The gas-fire safe behind the brass-edged fender;
And, an hour later, the sound of familiar footsteps
And another latchkey, opening the same front door.
–That was my Going Home before the war.

But now, for a thousand days, for more than a thousand,
It has been a phrase with many different meanings.
It has meant the steep stairs to a New York walk-up;
Another walk-up; then an elevator apartment.
It has meant the passageway to a hotel bedroom,
A hundred hotel bedrooms in a hundred cities,
Always the same–the bed, the stand for luggage,
The desk, the cuspidor and the Gideon Bible;
With different air coming in when you open the window–
Snowy New England air, dry air of Texas,
A cold fog blowing off the Lake in Chicago,
Or the humid breath of the Lower Mississippi.
It has meant the path back to the tourist cabin
(Cabin of wood or stone, of brick or adobe)
After a stroll in the woods or a stroll in the desert
To stretch the legs, and take the cramp from the fingers,
The vibration out of the spine from a long day's driving.
It has even meant the walk, the slow, uneven,
Lurching walk from the diner back to the Pullman,
Shoving the obstinate doors, both elbows rubbing
Along the walls, through cars with names like music–
Kayenta, Sinyala, Tesuque, Moencopi
To a berth with a number embossed on its thick dark curtains.
On a three-day journey, Home is Lower Four
–And you hope that the man in the Upper doesn't snore.

It matters little. It matters very little.
You must leave many things out of a travelling suit-case,
And one of them's self-pity: it is heavy and useless.
Besides, I own none. Wandering, I have discovered
Much treasure on my way, and none more precious
Than the meaning of Going Home, the real meaning.
One traveller said: "Home's where I hang my hat."
Well, there's some truth, but not all truth, in that.
Add two more letters–then, instead of part,
You'll get the whole: "Home's where I hang my heart."

Home is the inner core, the core of the spirit,
The triple core, where Past and Present and Future
Are braided into one, where things remembered,
And things now here, and things anticipated,
Grow indistinguishable and inseparable.
Here are the stone mullions and the area railings,
The hotel bedroom and the tourist cabin,
And some new, half-imagined post-war dwelling
(With a flat roof, maybe for the helicopter).
Gloucestershire, London, New York, San Francisco
Are here, and all the places in between them,
And all the friends that I have made in a life-time
(Living or dead), and the transient train-acquaintances,
And all the shadowy friends that are still to be met with.

This is a home that's well-equipped and lasting:
When the peacock-lawns have been sold for death and taxes,
And the bombs fall on the city, or the lease is ended–
Then these invisible walls remain, inviolate.
This inner place is Home: and going there
Is easy as flight of thistledown on the air.
I do not have to walk, or climb a stair,
Or push a bell, or knock,
Or turn a key in a lock.
I need not even draw two curtains apart
To reach this Home, where I have hung my heart–
This core, this inner core,
Which holds the Now, the After, the Before,
–Rest for the restless, peace in the midst of war.


R. F. D.

[Rural Free Delivery–R.M.G.]

THE COVERED wagons will roll no more
From Atlantic shore to Pacific shore.
Wood and canvas have rotted away
In desert sand or in prairie clay,
And the men and women who held the reins
Are the roots of the wheat on the Central Plains.

The camp-fire songs and the camp-fire jokes,
The solid hubs and the stalwart spokes,
Hank and Sukie and Bess and Slim,
The long thigh-bone and the strong steel rim,
Are blown or buried or gone to rust,
Are one with the air, are one with the dust.

But wherever the rural mailmen go
Through baking sun or blinding snow,
Wherever a well-trod path runs back
To a neat farm-house or a crumbling shack–
There, on top of their leaning posts,
The covered wagons have left their ghosts.

Some are battered and some are trim,
Some are rakish and some are prim,
Some are huddles in groups, afraid
Of the coming of night and the Indian raid,
And some are alone and proud–but all
Are silent, and ghostly, and still, and small.

The prairie schooners will roll no more
From Atlantic shore to Pacific shore.
They've lost their wheels and they've lost their load,
They stand drawn up by the side of the road:
But the traveller's eye can plainly see
The U. S. A. in the R. F. D.


AT SEA

I HAVE forgotten even the smell of happiness–
As one who has been many months at sea
Forgets the scent of grass on summer evenings,
I remember only that it was sweet, and lifted the heart.

One of these days, perhaps, there will be a landfall,
And I shall smell it again, and my heart be lifted:
But for now there is nothing except the bitter salt,
Day after day after day.


AIR PORT

IT IS not only the wise who can teach wisdom:
Sometimes the half-wise, expertly plying
Their own quotidian trade, can open a door
For the imprisoned–as a ticket clerk,
Tranquil and competent behind his bars,
Can send the earth-bound soaring to the stars.


JUNGLE

FOR HIM whose way is lost
   In the mind's jungle,
   It is no use to mingle
With those who've never crossed
The hair's-breadth line, or less,
   That parts their sunlit garden
From this black wilderness.
   They cannot case his burden;
They cannot share, or lighten, his distress.

Better companions now,
   Wiser and sounder,
   Are those who used to wander
Through this same hell; who know
The blotting-out of light,
   The close invisible horror,
The green eyes in the night,
   The sweating and terror.
These friends, and these alone, can help him fight.


THE SAGE

I ASKED a sage the way to the Blessed Isles.
He guided me to the shore of his own country.
"Here is the sea," he said. "There is nothing beyond it.
You can see for yourself there is nothing whatever beyond it."
Blackness fell upon me, and I wanted to die.

I thanked him; he bowed regretfully and went away.
I watched him trudging inland over the sand-dunes.
His back was bent: and I suddenly knew for certain
That the islands did exist, and that I could reach them.
The blackness lifted. I began to build a boat.


ALL CLEAR

IT TOOK me forty years on earth
   To reach this sure conclusion:
There is no Heaven but clarity,
   No Hell except confusion.


Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom