Henry Winston’s Laugh
CPUSA National Chairman Henry Winston. | People's World Archive

The following poem pays tribute to the memory of Henry Winston, a long-time national chair of the Communist Party. It was written by Rafael Pizarro, a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS), and was presented by Paul Krehbiel, another CCDS co-chair, as part of that organization’s greetings to the CPUSA’s 31st National Convention in June. This poem originally appeared in Blue Collar Review.

Henry Winston paces his cell.
Five steps and back, five steps and back.
How do you not run into the wall, his cell mate asks,
“Three steps forward, two steps back,” he jokes.

The boy with bad teeth and little education doesn’t get it,
but he loves how Winston laughs.
It makes him laugh too.

At night, the boy cries — he’s
too young to be here.
What can Henry do?

He tells the boy stories, stories
of life and struggles.
He knows not to make speeches, polemics,
for what would that mean
to this boy, far from home,
jailed for crimes of poverty.

He knows the boy likes a joke
but he knows not to make one
when the boy is in his bunk,
humming songs of rural Georgia.
Better be silent then and let him
work through his suffering.
There’s time for laughter in the morning.

 

But in the morning, the guard says,
the one that would be kind if his job allowed it,
You have a visitor, Winston, be ready in ten.
Who could it be, the boy asks.

 

It’s a reporter from a small newspaper;
he didn’t want this assignment
but he does need his paycheck
and so does his family.

 

The boy lies on his bunk, face to the wall,
and only listens. The reporter asks,
Do you regret your crime?
What crime?
Being a red.

A man can’t help what he thinks.
But is it worth losing your freedom, the reporter asks.
Henry lifts his head,
I don’t know what you mean, I haven’t
lost my freedom.

The reporter looks lost, confused —
but you’re in jail for who knows how long.
I see, says Henry,
I see your error:

The man who works day and night and still doesn’t have enough to feed his family, that man is not free;
The woman who must accept the abuse of her employers’ children, lest she lose her job—she is not free;
The child forced to go to work at an early age rather than get an education, that child is not free;
The men who are torn from their homes to kill men in far off lands who offend God no more than they, those men are not free;
The woman, bereft of everything a woman should have except her body, which she gives so she may live, she is not free;
The men who have been stripped of their souls and fill the space with sweet poison that only kills them slowly—those men certainly could be said to have lost their freedom.

 

Henry leans back and laces his fingers
behind his head and says,
Me, I’m perfectly comfortable.

The boy snickers, knowing when
Henry is having a little joke. The reporter stands up abruptly,
thinks he’s been had, calls the guard—
None of this will appear in his article.

When he leaves, Henry and the boy burst out laughing.

The guards don’t like this.
Tomorrow he’ll be moved to another cell,
alone, where he cannot make friends,
where there will be no one to read the papers to him.

 

In the morning Henry is told to take his blanket
and the gate clanks open. He embraces the boy,
ignores his tears as he knows this will embarrass him.
Henry says no words, they would hurt and he is determined
that his jailers will not hurt him.

The gate slams shut behind him and
as he’s led away by the arm he hears the boy call out one last time,
so that everyone can hear,
as if grasping for a round buoy—
Henry, Henry, wait!—what’s the name of that book you told me about?

2019 marks a century since the founding of the Communist Party USA. To commemorate the anniversary of the oldest socialist organization in the United States, People’s World has launched the article series: 100 Years of the Communist Party USA. Read the other articles published in the series and check out the guidelines about how to submit your own contribution.


CONTRIBUTOR

Rafael Pizarro
Rafael Pizarro

Rafael Pizarro is a national co-chair of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism (CCDS).

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