Four Preludes
On Playthings of the Wind


Carl Sandburg




 "The Past Is a Bucket of Ashes"

                           1

     The woman named Tomorrow
     sits with a hairpin in her teeth
     and takes her time
     and does her hair the way she wants it
     and fastens at last the last braid and coil
     and puts the hairpin where it belongs
     and turns and drawls:  Well, what of it?
     My grandmother, Yesterday, is gone.
     What of it?  Let the dead be dead.

                           2

     The doors were cedar
     and the panel strips of gold
     and the girls were golden girls
     and the panels read and the girls chanted:
         We are the greatest city,
         the greatest nation:
         nothing like us every was.
     The doors are twisted on broken hinges.
     Sheets of rain swish through on the wind
     where golden girls ran and the panels read:
         We are the greatest city,
         the greatest nation:
         nothing like us ever was.


                           3

     It has happened before.
     Strong men put up a city and got
         a nation together,
     And paid singers to sing and women
         to warble:  We are the greatest city, 
             the greatest nation, 
             nothing like us ever was.

     And while the singers sang
     and the strong men listened
     and paid the singers well
     and felt good about it all,
         there were rats and lizards who listened
         ... and the only listeners left now
         ... are ... the rats .. and the lizards.

     And there are black crows
     crying, "Caw, caw,"
     bringing mud and sticks
     building a nest over the words carved
     on the doors where the panels were cedar
     and the strips on the panels were gold
     and the golden girls came singing:
         We are the greatest city,
         the greatest nation:
         nothing like us ever was.

     The only singers now are crows crying, "Caw, caw,"
     And the sheets of rain whine in the wind and doorways.
     And the only listeners now are ... the rats ... and the lizards.

                           4

     The feet of the rats
     scribble on the doorsills;
     the hieroglyphs of the rat footprints
     chatter the pedigrees of the rats
     and babble of the blood
     and gabble of the breed
     of the grandfathers and the great-grandfathers
     of the rats.

     And the wind shifts
     and the dust on a doorsill shifts
     and even the writing of the rat footprints
     tells us nothing, nothing at all
     about the greatest city, the greatest nation
     where the strong men listened
     and the women warbled:  Nothing like us ever was.


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