Tuesday, 5 June 2018


THE BEGINNINGS OF MAY
(1997)

by Lorraine Caputo


With the beginnings of May
      hopes  & dreams drift
            on vernal  breezes

One hundred eleven years ago
            the 1st of May
Workers were striking in Chicago
      for the eight-hour workday
The Chicago Mail said
      If trouble should occur
            make an example of
                  Albert Parsons & August Spies
            the 3rd of May
In front of the McCormick Harvester works
      the police opened fire
Strikers ran for their lives
      many were wounded
      four were dead
            the 4th of May
A demonstration
Chicago police & military arrived
      In the name of the State of Illinois
            disperse

A bomb exploded
            agent provocateur?
& the agents of repression shot

When the gun smoke cleared
      & the streets streamed with blood
The oppressor’s history recorded
      how many of their agents died

& lost to our memory
            buried beneath their dreams
      we do not know
            how many of us died

Parsons & Spies & six other
      anarchist labor leaders were arrested
Only one was at Haymarket
      speaking when the bomb blew
Their crime: their literature
They were tried, convicted
Four executed       one killed himself
After several years of worldwide protest
      the other three were pardoned

All around the world on May 1st
      workers remember those martyrs
            of Haymarket Square
They know our history
But here the silence suppresses
      our knowledge
It is not our labor day
It is not a historical site
      just a barren concrete space
            caught between train station & highway
            ensnared in the snarled chaotic web
                  of modern traffic
                  of capitalist life here


Another beginning of May
      twenty-seven years ago
Campuses across our nation
      erupted into pain shared
            with Cambodians & Vietnamese
There people died
      beneath US corporate-government bombs
      because of its greed & ethno-centrism
There our brothers & friends died
      drafted into the slavery of war

& so the students arose

President Nixon & Attorney General Mitchell said
      an example should be made
            to silence those young voices

At Kent State
The ROTC barracks had been firebombed
            but by whom?
After days of Northeast Ohio rains
      no Molotov cocktail could have ignited
            those old wooden buildings
But an agent provocateur succeeded
Governor Rhodes sent the Guard out

& on this May 4th twenty-seven years ago
      four died at Kent State
            another eight wounded
                  one who would die a few years later

& two killed at Jackson State, Mississippi
All told
      fourteen dead on nine campuses
            within days       nationwide
At the hands of the police
      National Guard militia
At the hands of the agents of repression

Forgotten       beneath layers
      of denial       suppression
Buried away       hidden away

     
Today
      in the soft light of a
            cool late-Spring morning
I read the Wobblie paper
A notice that Judi Bari died
      IWW union organizer
      Earth First! activist
            tirelessly toiling to protect
                  our Mother Earth
                  & the workers

An Arizona car bomb
      lifted her & Daryl Cherny
            out of her Volkswagen bug
Skyward they flew
      gravely injured
After numerous death threats

No, you terrorists were going to bomb
      & made a mistake
Said the agents of repression
But no, FBI
      you know the truth
            & will not let us know
You know, corporate-government
      who the real criminal is

& after several years
      of living with those wounds
            that would not still her voice
                  her hopes       her dreams
Judi Bari has died


The beginnings of May
      when hopes & dreams of
                  workers       union organizers
                  anti-war activists
                  environmentalists
            sprout in the northern sun
                  to face the US corporate-government

The agent provocateurs set the bombs
& the agents of repression opened fire
      each & every time
The blood of our martyred
      brothers & sisters
            bathed the awakening earth

The agents shoveled       & shovel
      the toxic waste of their capitalism
            upon these memories
Burying them from our grasp
      our understanding
Burying our birthright
      created with our voices & actions

But we are clearing away the trash
      & carrying the glimmers
            of the martyrs’ hopes
            & songs of their voices
                  into the sun
Nourishing       & celebrating
      cultivating
            their dreams       our dreams


* * * * *

"The Beginnings of May (1997)" is part of Lorraine Caputo's work in progress, an (unpublished) five-part suite of poems about 1 May – International Workers’ Day – and its commemoration in distinct parts of the Americas (Mexico City, the US’ history, San Salvador, Quito and Havana).

Lorraine Caputo writes: I am a documentary poet, translator and travel writer. My poetry and narratives have been published in over 100 journals in Canada, the US, Latin America, Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa, such as Prairie SchoonerCanadian DimensionThe Mérida Review (Mexico), A New Ulster (Northern Ireland), Open Road Review (India), Cordite Poetry Review (Australia) and Bakwa (Cameroon). As well, my works appear in 11 chapbooks of poetry – including Caribbean Nights (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2014) and Notes from the Patagonia (dancing girl press, 2017), five audio recordings and 18 anthologies. I have also authored several travel guidebooks. In March 2011, the Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada chose my verse as poem of the month. I have done over 200 literary readings, from Alaska to the Patagonia. For the past decade, I have been traveling through Latin America, listening to the voices of the pueblos and Earth. You may follow my travels at Latin America Wanderer: www.facebook.com/lorrainecaputo.wanderer.