Down by the riverside, all are invited
into the music, and these sweating strangers,
elbow to elbow in the hot July night,
are a crowd that knows the words and have come to taste
the old songs on their lips again.
Some drunk college boys in the front row
can’t settle down, throw popcorn at the stage, bellow,
wanting to get rowdy.
But they are shamed by the gathering
and after awhile, they too enter the communal rhythms,
clasp their hands, sing along.
Only the earthen banks of the Mississippi find praise here.
And if I had a hammer, this old city of Robber Barons
rising in a high arrogance of corporate concrete,
would hear the smashing of chains, the ringing of bells
announcing the first morning of the New World
and dancing in the streets.
This floodplain is claimed in one voice by the People,
if only for tonight. A summer sound of joy
goes down to the dark currents of Big Muddy singing,
and we feel what is possible:
the good American heart of its men and women
open to the world, all the labor in the fields of justice
bearing beautiful fruit at last,
all highways open, and the rivers running untainted
into the future, mixing the black earth of the Heartland
with the cold salts of the sea …
From beyond the twirling lights of carnival rides,
the pizza stands and clanging targets of arcades,
come families holding balloons and ice cream cones
to see what all this singing is about, joining in
until the last encore.
We sway to and fro,
while moths and bats flutter past our ears,
the children sing louder now
than their parents by the ancient,
always young water –
this land is your land, this land is my land…
From “The Death of Communism” (Partisan Press) and reprinted with permission.
Photo: In this Daily Worker archive photo, Pete Seeger and Arlo Guthrie sing in a more informal setting. (via Tamiment Library/Permission needed to reprint this photo. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org)