Two Poems

Trace-layer—sculptor of memory

Gunter Demnig is a German sculptor who grappled with how to restore the memory of Nazi victims to common consciousness. First, he traced the paths of the lost in painted lines, but many denied the events he traced. In 1991, he conceived of the stumbling stones—30,000 now and counting...

it is how he thinks, how he
comes to it

go from the beginning with lines
to the place of broken—

break the lines

an unfinished half-breath
a foot lifted
gone to air

trace layers
pulled from under stones
a broken—           

paint blue vectors
against the lacunae of jagged

inscribe the walk
Romani to the railhead—in Köln—
to a void

yet still the narrative eludes
the proximate mathematics of lines
for this subtraction

fails to convey
like a poem without its

he wrestles for shape
struggles to make it

and then he has it!
not the grand gesture but a single name
place a name within the cobbles
where neighbors walk
victim by victim

on stones that linger on the tongue
in the eye
taste like emptiness…

he labors year after year
inscribing the names
laying the stones

across Europe


Haymarket Poems:
Chicago: May 4, 1886

At last, they thought, the fight,
the lives lost, the men blacklisted since 1877, the struggle to convince craftsmen
of common cause with factory workers, to convince men of common cause with women
was won at last.

They had stopped the rails all the way west,
kept ships in the harbor stagnating, kept commerce frozen,
kept the linchpin of the nation shut down.

No goods moved on the backs of labor working in near slave conditions;
no goods were made or sold by the women working in the shops of Marshall Fields—
here, in Lincoln’s state—only twenty-one years since the great conflagration—so many veterans of that fight thinking now, thinking again, of their own rights – and despite
the deaths at the McCormick Reapers plant, they had held the line –
in the morning they would have
the 8 hour day.

So they held a celebratory parade and gathered for speeches in the Haymarket,
Albert Parsons stopped by with Lucy and the children, and went home, tired from travel.
The mayor stopped by, went home, satisfied the rally was peaceful. Only Albert Spies was still speaking, still on the hay wagon, when the police captain, conspiring
with the likes of Marshall Field, McCormick, and the Chicago Tribune,
in defiance of the mayor, gathered his forces to move down Desplaines
to disperse the remnant of the crowd with
clubs and guns.

The mayor was sleeping when the call came
at 2 am of the deaths, from bomb or blast, a flash thrown
out against the mass of police who had marched with confidence.
Reports could not place a sure source, but all those present except police, pointed
to a source far from the hay wagon, far from Albert Spies, the only accused who was in, or even near, the Haymarket. Police seemed startled, confused. Most who fell after the blast fell from police guns fired in fear into their own ranks
or at passers by fleeing the market.

It sold papers—fear from coast to coast. Anarchists Riot in the Haymarket!
Victory for the Tribune. Victory for Fields. Victory for McCormick.
9 arrested, 9 tried, 9 found guilty, 8 to die, 0 evidence:
4 hung, 1 suicide by dynamite in cell, 3 pardons.
One Red Scare: No evidence needed.

For August Spies, Adolph Fischer, George Engel, Albert Parsons – editors for labor
Died Cook County Jail – November 11, 1887

—Martha Kaplan, Madison, WI