Haymarket, and the Last Address of August Spies

Haymarket, and the Last Address of August Spies

It is October , 1887, Chicago.
Through the courthouse windows
August Spies, defendant, watches
The great leaves slicing down, down, through the still air
And ponders hanging.
He is used to making speeches: knows how to drag words over the friction of truth
Until it sparks, sweeps him away with a flame of fury,
And sets the crowd on fire.
Is this now different?
Death sits in the Courtroom.
He can hear a branch striking the courthouse bricks
Or perhaps it was a stone. He shivers.

Then, after swiftly scanning his notes,_
His Arbeiter-Zeitung articles:
Strikes, police attacks on carpenters,
Railroad workers, streetcar walkouts,
Steel workers, the deaths
He spots brave black Lucy, wife
Of co-defendant Albert Parsons
Sitting on a back bench, and her words ring in his ears:
“It is the only voice which tyranny has ever understood!”
He rises to his feet.

As upholsterer, he excels in structure.
Mortise and tenon join his arguments, framed oak-strong.
His defense is an accusation.
He slams the jury, a gang of appointed vigilantes,
The State Attorney, the Police Chief:
“Noble patricians, who thrive upon the misery of the multitudes
“Who cannot conceive of social order not held intact by the policeman’s club and pistol
Nor of a free society without prisons, gallows-“

He is filled with a savage joy as he details the breadth,
The dominion, the infernal iron grasp
Of a system which enslaves the people, living without hope.
As he himself is doomed, he has no hope
To weaken what he says.

“You have intimated that Anarchism is on trial here!”
He looks around at the newspapermen..” And you have
Invented and spread shocking and horrifying stories-
Of dark conspiracies- of a newly- discovered tribe of cannibals-
Knowing we have striven only to
Limit people’s endless toil
To an eight-hour day!”

Spies glares at the bench, but
Judge Gary’s face remains a haughty, shriveled mask.

He raises his voice.

If that is the case, your honor, very well;
You may sentence me, for I am an Anarchist.
I believe, with Paine, Jefferson, Emerson,
That the state of castes and classes—
Where one class dominates over
The labor of another class, and calls it order-
Yes! I believe that this barbaric form of social organization,
With its legalized plunder and murder,
Is doomed to die, and make room for a free society,
Voluntary association, or universal brotherhood!
The mandate of the feudal lords of our time
Is slavery, starvation and death!”

The acoustics are good, and Spies has the lungs of a mountain man.
He has been charged, he declares, with “conspiracy against society,”
Because he has endeavored to educate the wage workers.
“For the ruling class
Have always kept the people in ignorance
“Because they must not lose their servility, their modesty,
Their obedience to the powers that be.
The system of wages is the root
Of present social iniquities- iniquities” he thunders,
So monstrous that they cry out to Heaven!”

He lifts his eyes to the balcony and is stunned
To meet the gaze of his father, dead already a decade!
The eyes are kind and smiling, and
Suddenly he is transported to Landenberg Mountain.
He is in his old lederhosen, and he holds his father’s hand
As they walk together through the dark trunks of the deep forest
Talking of stars, and earth, and all the creatures living on it.
It is Beltane, the first day of May, and, as they walk, they gather

Ash, oak, hawthorn,
Wild red carnations, flower of revolution, for his mother.

Far from the heavy, dirty air of this sad city,
He breathes the pure, shimmering mountain ether
And his spirit expands.

He is only thirty-two. His time on earth is ending.
He will use it.. The light in the window changes slowly,
But still the court is transfixed.

However, he is now addressing, not them, but
The workers of future centuries
The masses whose red flags will one day surge through the world’s streets
-Vast fields of scarlet, like the carnation meadows of his Hessian mountain-
In Vienna, Paris, Berlin,
Except in his own nation, dimmed and unrepentant, every nation in the world.

People will memorize his words.
“A revolution is like an earthquake, a hurricane,
It cannot be organized. Here we may tread upon a spark
But behind you, and in front of you, and everywhere
Flames will blaze up. It is subterranean,
The ground is on fire, upon which you stand!
And if you think you can extinguish these ideas_
That are gaining ground every day!
-If you think you can crush them out by sending us to the gallows-
-If you would once more have a people suffer the penalty of death
Because they dared to tell the truth-
And I defy you to show us where we have told a lie-
I say, if death is the penalty for proclaiming truth,
Then I will proudly and defiantly pay the price!
Truth, crucified in Socrates,, in Christ, in
Giordano Bruno, in Huss, in Galileo, still lives, and they,
And others, whose number is legion
Have preceded us on this path.
We are ready to follow!”

They lead him away
And, three weeks later,
His appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court rejected,
To the US Supreme Court rejected,
He thinks again of Giordano Bruno as he is brought to the hangman-
The modest, servile and obedient hangman-

With his three dear friends, and hooded,
Thinks of Bruno, burned at the stake, in a Roman plaza,
For saying that all the stars might be worlds, and
That other worlds might exist.
He chuckles,
For those, indeed, were his words too..

And so, just before he is dropped
His lungs fill once again with fragrant mountain air, and
He blasts a last message to this world:
“The time will come when our silence
Will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”
As he falls, he thinks only of the stars.

Ellen Taylor can be reached at ellenetaylor@yahoo.com.