Friday, June 28, 2019

Reprising 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 an assassination attempt on steel baron Henry Clay Frick.

Note—I have posted this before, as recently as last year but the two women are particular favorites of mine and I immodestly think that the poem is one of my better efforts.
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 capitalist 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

1 comment:

  1. Well done, Patrick! I'm with Emma. I also don't want to be part of any revolution that doesn't involve dancing.