The Right to Grief

Take your fill of intimate discourse, perfumed sorrow,
Over the dead child of a millionaire,
And the pity of Death refusing any check on the bank
Which the millionaire might order his secretary to scratch off
And get cashed.


       Very well,
You for your grief and I for mine.
Let me have a sorrow my own if I want to.


I shall cry over the dead child of a stockyards hunky.
His job is sweeping blood off the floor.
He gets a dollar seventy cents a day when he works
And it's many tubs of blood he shoves out with a broom day by day.


Now his three year old daughter
Is in a white coffin that costs him a week's wages.
Every Saturday night he will pay the undertaker fifty cents until the
       debt is wiped out.


The hunky and his wife and the kids
Cry over the pinched face almost at peace in the white box.


They remember it was scrawny and ran up high doctor bills.
They are glad it is gone for the rest of the family now will have more to
       eat and wear.


Yet before the majesty of Death they cry around the coffin.
And wipe their eyes with red bandanas and sob when the priest says,
       “God have mercy on us all.”


I have a right to feel my throat choke about this.
You take your grief and I mine –– see?
Tomorrow there is no funeral and the hunky goes back to this job
       sweeping blood off the floor at a dollar seventy cents a day.
All he does all day long is keep on shoving hog blood ahead of him with a broom.

 

 

 

Sandburg, Carl. Chicago Poems. New York, N.Y.: Henry Holt, 1916.