Saturday, January 19, 2013

Number 1 Patchin Place... Revised

I am posting a much revised version of "Number 1 Patchin Place." The previous version suffered under the weight of facts and references in an attempt to reclaim the memory of John Reed.  It was just too much.  The poem is about the fact that we've forgotten who Reed was and for what he stood. We remember the literary figures who lived on Patchin Place (I focus only on Cummings, but Dreiser and other writers also lived there), but as a society we have have buried the memory of Reed and his fellow Reds.  We have no words for them.


There is no sign or plaque hanging by the door
of this Greenwich Village house—
nothing to tell us who once lived here,
unlike the plaque at Number 4,
where E.E. Cummings lived.

In this house, John Reed lived
and wrote about a world without chains,
about those who shook the world
to overthrow the tyranny of capital.
He wrote of revolution in Russia,
where he saw the workers rise,
and the revolutions he hoped
would rise around the world,
even in America.
But those were just words—
words in books and speeches,
words noted by the government men
who filled files with the sedition
that flowed from this house.

Across the street at Number 4,
years after Reed was dead
and buried in the Kremlin Wall,
Cummings wrote of Russia,
of disappointment and despair.
The hope that flowed from Number 1
was jailed, starved, exiled,
investigated, questioned, blacklisted,
then swept into the dustbin of history.

We remember Cummings,
the anarchy of his words and lines
overthrowing the tyranny of form,
offending only grammarians
who would keep the language in chains.
But at Number 1 Patchin Place,
no words to remember Reed.

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