Poems for International Workers’ Day / May Day 2012: “We hurl the bright bomb of the sun, the moon like a hand grenade.”Posted: May 1, 2012
Into the streets May First! (1934)
Into the streets May First!
Into the roaring Square!
Shake the midtown towers!
Shatter the downtown air!
Come with a storm of banners,
Come with an earthquake tread,
Bells, hurl out of your belfries,
Red flag, leap out your red!
Out of the shops and factories,
Up with the sickle and hammer,
Comrades, these are our tools,
A song and a banner!
Roll song, from the sea of our hearts,
Banner, leap and be free;
Song and banner together,
Down with the bourgeoisie!
Sweep the big city, march forward,
The day is a barricade;
We hurl the bright bomb of the sun,
The moon like a hand grenade.
Pour forth like a second flood!
Thunder the alps of the air!
Subways are roaring our millions –
Comrades, into the square!
International Workers’ Day (May Day) is back in earnest – though in some nations the voices have always been there, only elbowed out by the slickness of advertising and the ruthless editing of media in an all-round cacophony of contemporary life. Here in Toronto the Occupy Movement has joined forces with No One is Illegal to draw attention to the economic vulnerability of refugees and “hidden” immigrants. Though few of Toronto’s 2012 marchers will cry: “Up with the hammer and sickle!” as does the inspirational voice in the above poem (set in Depression-dreary New York City) by British-American writer Alfred Hayes (1911-1985), surely the same energy and enthusiasm will be felt.
Demonstration on a Sunny Afternoon (1970)
These days not even death seems so certain;
But, considering the system, I’ve lived too long anyway.
For the young it should be more serious, but oddly
enough it’s not
(an odd whimsy, considering this isn’t
the Viet Nam jungle, or the streets of the USA;
death is remote – but I’m convinced
it won’t be always)
Nevertheless, to think of Crazy Horse
putting Crooke to flight on the Rosebud;
two weeks later eating up Custer,
waving his war-club, shouting:
“Come on, Dakotas…It’s a good day to die!”
It steadies my nerves…makes
a confrontation even pleasant…
In this poem from 1970 Milton Acorn (1923-1986) muses on the
zeitgeist of 1960s USA – the spirit of rebellion and protest
(rebellion and protest are not the same thing).
He speaks from a Canadian perspective in that era;
social unrest and political agitation were more muted here,
save for the FLQ Crisis and, later, in 1976, the victory of the Parti Québécois.
A sensitive tough guy and a boozer, Acorn fills the poem with a combination
of idealism, pessimism and humour – uniquely his.
He described himself thus:
“I am a Revolutionary Poet. Not revolutionary in my poetry but revolutionary in my politics.”
Rose Pastor Stokes
Our folded hands again are at the loom.
Is ominous with peace.
But what we weave you see not through the gloom.
‘Tis terrible with doom.
You dream that we are weaving what you will?
Our fingers do not cease:
We’ve starved–and lost; but we are weavers
And Hunger’s in the mill!…
And Hunger moves the Shuttle forth and back.
The product grows and grows …
A shroud it is; a shroud of ghastly black.
We’ve never let you lack!
The Warp and Woof of Misery and Defeat…
See how the Shuttle goes!
Our bruised hearts with bitter hopes now beat:
The Shuttle’s sure–and fleet!….
Several thousand Paterson, New Jersey, textile mill workers went on strike for six months in 1913. They were demanding a shorter work day – 8 hours instead of 12 – and an end to the use of child labour. Many women were involved and more than 1800 silk-weavers were arrested during the strike, which, though failing to produce any immediate results, put workers’ rights front and centre as a matter for public and political action in the USA.
In her poem, Rose Pastor Stokes (1879-1933) imagines the weavers back at their looms after the failed strike…