We must remember.
If we forget where we’ve come from
we’ll live to regret where we end up.
If we believe those who say it’s over,
we’ll soon discover they speak only to deceive.
It’s a humourless send-up.
The end of history’s a rumour
spread by fools or liars.
Throughout all times, from January to December,
we are the history we live through,
the leaven in the bread of life.
Yes, me and you:
our lives are no mystery;
we are not led, we lead each other
by misinterpretations of our deepest need.
What we perceive is the end of prehistoric times,
when new rules apply.
My rhymes are spun from perceptions we’ve won from reality,
experienced by those whose tools are tempered daily in the fires
of the duality of light and dark,
evil defeated by the good in the battle for our food,
we ourselves are the devil who tells us there’s nothing we can do;
we are the spark that through the growing fields must ripen corn.
We are born anew each time we do what must be done.
Time is a harlot giving her embraces
to those with richest coin.
The rising sun turns scarlet in our faces.
We may not join these usurers
in their buying cheap and selling dear.
Far and near, greed robs the people’s need for this short time only.
The poor die alone and lonely,
lost in the maze of value, price and profit.
Gold’s the world’s standard: we must come off it now.
But God’s graces are eternal,
and the infernal age we live through is dying as we speak.
Seek ye first the kingdom within you
and then the meek shall indeed inherit the earth.
Ignore your purpose and tomorrow
will only bring you greater sorrow.
The whole corpus of past, present and future
is an indenture, apprenticeship to worship of a greater power,
the non-contingent truth raising us from infanthood to youth.
Puberty is a time for liberty.
Confusion is rife.
Pick up the knife of memory
and excise the ephemera of meaninglessness.
Excess is the heritage we’re born to.
Come! A drum is beating for the advance.
We can only get to where we’re going by way of where we’ve been;
not a march under military banners
but a dance.
Tighten the nuts and bolts of our wagon
with the spanners of what we’ve learned.
The burnt child fears the flame,
but we’ve been hardened
by the toil of weeds we’ve gardened out
to leave space for the seeds of time to blossom.
Only comparing what we’ve seen with what we look at
can we understand the book of the total past as now.
We’ll not allow anything to interfere
with our understanding.
We are landing bigger fish than Moby Dick.
The sea is thick with the silver darlings.
There’s no availing ourselves of self-deception.
We stand at the reception desk of a new up and a new down.
ApocalypseTown is dressed in a Jerusalem gown.
We are the stuff that dreams are made on.
The dawning sun commands
and we’ve obeyed.
Else our human nation would have been pruned
and bonfire-burnt like a mouldy branch put to the axe
at our foundation.
This is our last chance.
Our backs have been bent too long.
We have lent our song to those whose only music is discord.
For all our sake
we must awake
and pull on board our drowning selves.
Sleep has kept us chained.
But each of us is named in the golden page of those who earn a wage
and would stop being robbed from.
It is between our doom or the end of those who’ve stolen from us.
They’ve been doling out the fruits of our work
as if they made a gift of what is ours.
Each fruit we lift from the plundered ground
is found within our hearts.
This is the new start we’ve longed for through millennia.
One or the other,
sister and brother,
our single choice.
Lament the past or rejoice the time to come.
Get off your bum!
We are our history.
Make it ours.
The power’s in our fists.
Mists of where we’re going clear.
Far and near are bright as dawning.
This new morning
is the first moment of still to be recorded time.
To sleep on would be a crime.
He who forgets the past will keep on making the same mistakes.
Your name is the signature to all that follows.
Two swallows quarter up the sky.
Summer’s not yet here but it is coming.
That drumming is the beat of many million feet.
Cast off your blindfold and look:
this story is your book of hours,
not yours or mine,
Revised 26/06/04 18:20
Frances Fukiyama put a question mark in the title of his essay, “The End of History?” in the journal, The National Interest, in the summer of 1989.
Woody Guthrie: House of Earth
(Infinitum Nihil, £14.99)
Woody Guthrie was in love with words. Obsessed by them. They poured from his pen and his typewriter into scraps of paper and pages and notebooks that have filled hundreds and thousands of boxes and filing cabinets that are still being mined for evidence that he was and is one of the great stylists of the American language, possibly the greatest since Whitman.
And this book, as far as we know – and who knows what riches still lie, still undiscovered in those scattered archives? – is his first and only novel. Though there were fictional elements in his two previous books, they were basically first-person memoirs, enriched but not belied by the extravagances of his imagination.
They were also edited and tidied up before publication, by publishing people who felt they knew what made a good book better. But though this book is said to have been edited and introduced by actor Johnny Depp and the historian, Douglas Brinkley, we get a stronger feeling for the unfettered richness of his creativity.
Basically, it’s the story of the struggle for survival of two dirt-poor sharecroppers in the Texas panhandle, Tike and Ella May Hamlin, who are inspired by a five cent pamphlet distributed by Roosevelt’s New Deal government, with instructions on how to build an adobe home, the “house of earth” in the book’s title, that will withstand the dust bowl winds better than their flimsy and ramshackle shanty.
But this is not just a practical solution to their residence on earth; it’s a way to tame the winds that are driving them from the land.
Ella May tells Tike how to do it, by running out into the dust storm and catching the dust in his hat:
“Then you run over to the iron water tank, and you stick the hat and all, dust storm and all, down under the water, and you hold it down there till it tames down, and all of the wind and air goes out of it, and it just turns into soil, dirt again. Then you go and you lay it down somewhere, anywhere you want to, and it will be your land. Your farm. Your ranch.”
“By grabs an’ by grasshoppers, I’m a-gonna do that. That very thing. I swear by twenty rows of burnt corn, I’ll do it. I’ll do it just as sure as I’m a layin’ here.”
“Will you, ohhh, will you really? Really? Will yooo? Ohhh. Deah. My deah. You don’t know, you just don’t know, you never will know, how it would thrill me, and fill me, and chill me and frill me and dill me and spill me and drill me and lil me and hill me and till. me and bill me and jack me and jill me. You just don’t have any idea, any ideeeaa, my dyeahhh, to see you really do something, anything, anything, just so it was something, anything. Ohh. Ahhmm. Tikus. My little Mikus.”
Much has been made by some of the more lubricious critics of the steamy sex, and it’s true that it’s much more graphic than Lady Chatterley. In fact, the sex provides some of the more poetic stretches, but the odd quoted paragraph couldn’t give more than a taste of the glorious writing, which goes on literally for page after page.
Reading this book is hard work, because you’ve just got to let its cadences wash over and through you. (There’s an audio version, downloadable from Audible.com, in which Will Patton’s voice does it rather well.) This is far from the sparse, laconic style of Woody’s singing balladry. But the book ends with a song (which could sing well to the tune of John Henry, the black steel-driving man) in which Ella May’s new-born child, whom she nicknames Grasshopper, triumphs over all adversity:
Well the Grasshopper says to that landlord
You can drive your tractor all around
You can plow, you can plant, you can take in your crop,
But you cain’t run my earth house down, down, down!
No! You cain’t run my earth house down!
Though it’s not really a political work, like the Woody Sez columns he wrote for the New York Daily Worker, the struggle for better things is always there, always implicit:
“I wonder if it will ever come to an out-and-out fight,” says one character. “I sometimes hope so. I wish that the families of people that live in debt all of their lives in their trash-can houses would all get together and fight to get out of the miserable stink and mess. I wish they could know as I know that they work and pay out their good money just for the privilege of living in a coffin.”
Ella May replies:
“A good coffin would cost more than a dozen of these shacks. A graveyard spot would cost more. Oh, it is just so expensive to die these days. This is the reason why I want to keep on staying alive. And I want to show just a few people around here that there is a way to come out of this mess, to build a better house, and not pick up and run away down the highway.”
This review appeared in the Morning Star on March 22, 2013.
It has now been added to the writings to be included in the Histories no mystery ebook.