Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Birthday Sisters Emma and Helen—Murfin Verse

Emma Goldman in her youth.

I discovered yesterday in my search for topics that Emma Goldman, whose grave I recently visited on a pilgrimage to the Haymarket Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, and Helen Keller, who had fascinated me since seeing The Miracle Worker and reading a paperback biography I ordered from a Scholastic Book Club flyer shared a common birthday on that date.
You know, if you have visited here before, that such calendar coincidences trigger an inexplicable urge to commit poetry.
Most people recognize Goldman’s name as America’s most famous anarchist.  They may be surprised to learn that she was also a famous lecturer whose talks on theater, religion, women’s rights, and free love drew as much attention in their day as her calls to smash the state and end capitalism.
Keller’s profound advocacy of Socialism and the IWW has largely been white washed from her public image.  But that is slowly changing as folks on the left slowly become aware that she was a comrade and fellow worker.

Helen Keller.

Birthday Sisters Emma and Helen
Emma Goldman June 27,1869, Konvo, Imperial Russian Lithuania
Helen Keller, June 27, 1880, Tuscumbia, Alabama, USA

If I can't dance, I don't want to be part of your revolution—Emma Goldman

…there is no king who has not had a slave among his ancestors, and no slave who has not had a king among his.—Helen Keller.

You might not suspect that they were sisters.

Emma with her square jaw and carelessly attended hair,
          gray eyes peering through
          those old fashion pinze nez spectacles
          perched upon her nose,
          the urban smells of coal fire,
delivery horse dung and workman’s sweat
clinging to her frumpy clothes,
speech meticulously enunciated
barely betraying here and there
a Yiddish trace.

Helen, who would have been a delicate beauty
          in here youth
          were it not for those disconcerting,
          unfocused eyes,
          Confederate grace and slave cotton wealth
          a mantle on her delicate shoulders,
          the sweet lilt of a gentlewoman
          lost to grunts and moans.

But wait….
          These two knew what it was like
          to be a stranger, an exile,
          an alien other
          and ultimately what it was like
          to be a celebrated curiosity.

They learned as a Jew
          and as a side show freak,
          as women, after all,
          what oppression was
          but also that they
          were not alone—

They swam in a sea of oppression
          and learned early
          of the solidarity of the school
          against the sharks
          that would consume them.

Maybe the world expected little else
          from the Jewess
          who threw her lot early
          with the filthy anarchists
          who made bombs
          and plotted an attentat
          like the job she pulled
          passing the pistol
          to her lover, for god sake,
          to plug Henry Clay Frick.

But the world was aghast
          when the delicate Radcliffe flower,
          who had charmed Mark Twain,
          Alexander Graham Bell,
          and Teddy Roosevelt,
          raised the Red Flag
          and fell side by side
          with the laborers,
          the unemployed,  
          the despised—even the Negros!

The atheist anarchist
          and the Socialist Wobbly
          who dabbled in Swedenborgism
          and a mystic Red Jesus
          did not agree on details,
          they might have enjoyed
          a friendly debate
          each being a master
          of the platform.

But each in her own way
          was steadfast to the end
          of her long life
          for a revolution of liberation
          and the ultimate triumph
          of beauty.

I imagine sometimes
          that as they each
          traversed the country
          on lecture tour or
          vaudeville circuit
          if they ever crossed paths
          in say, a railway station
          in Omaha or a
          hotel lobby in Akron
          and fell into each other’s arms

“Sister, sister, I have found you!”

—Patrick Murfin
Helen Keller as a Joan of Arc type hero leading the working people of the world to triumph in an alagorical scene from her 1919 silent film Deliverence.

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