Friday, June 29, 2018

Emma and Helen Birthday Sisters—Murfin Verse

A young Emma Goldman  in her mug shot after her arrest for conspiring with her lover Alexander Berkman  in and assassination attempt of steel baron Henry Clay Frick.

Emma Goldman, whose grave I have visited on pilgrimages to the Haymarket Memorial in Forest Home Cemetery, and Helen Keller, who has 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 June 27.

Helen Keller as a student at Radcliffe was already world famous for her astounding achievements overcoming blindness and deafness.

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.
Goldman was such a compelling writer and public figure that even the capitialist press was eager to publish her fiery essays.

Keller’s profound advocacy of Socialism and the IWW has largely been white washed from her public image.  But that is changing as folks on the left slowly become aware that she was a comrade and fellow worker.

Helen Keller as a Joan of Arc type hero leading the working people of the world to triumph in an allegorical scene from her 1919 silent film Deliverance.

In these dark times it is good to remember our Sheroes.  

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 attend 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 her 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  attentats
            like that 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

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