Verse > Carl Sandburg > Smoke and Steel > II. People Who Must > 28. The Sins of Kalamazoo
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Carl Sandburg (1878–1967).  Smoke and Steel. 1922.
  
II. People Who Must
28. The Sins of Kalamazoo
  
THE SINS of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson.
  
The sins of Kalamazoo are a convict gray, a dishwater drab.
  
And the people who sin the sins of Kalamazoo are neither scarlet nor crimson.
  
They run to drabs and grays—and some of them sing they shall be washed whiter than snow—and some: We should worry.
  
Yes, Kalamazoo is a spot on the map        5
And the passenger trains stop there
And the factory smokestacks smoke
And the grocery stores are open Saturday nights
And the streets are free for citizens who vote
And inhabitants counted in the census.        10
Saturday night is the big night.
  Listen with your ears on a Saturday night in Kalamazoo
  And say to yourself: I hear America, I hear, what do I hear?
  
Main street there runs through the middle of the twon
And there is a dirty postoffice        15
And a dirty city hall
And a dirty railroad station
And the United States flag cries, cries the Stars and Stripes to the four winds on Lincoln’s birthday and the Fourth of July.
  
Kalamazoo kisses a hand to something far off.
  
Kalamazoo calls to a long horizon, to a shivering silver angel, to a creeping mystic what-is-it.        20
  
“We’re here because we’re here,” is the song of Kalamazoo.
  
“We don’t know where we’re going but we’re on our way,” are the words.
  
There are hound dogs of bronze on the public square, hound dogs looking far beyond the public square.
  
Sweethearts there in Kalamazoo
Go to the general delivery window of the postoffice        25
And speak their names and ask for letters
And ask again, “Are you sure there is nothing for me?
I wish you’d look again—there must be a letter for me.”
  
And sweethearts go to the city hall
And tell their names and say,“We want a license.”        30
And they go to an installment house and buy a bed on time and a clock
And the children grow up asking each other, “What can we do to kill time?”
They grow up and go to the railroad station and buy tickets for Texas, Pennsylvania, Alaska.
“Kalamazoo is all right,” they say. “But I want to see the world.”
And when they have looked the world over they come back saying it is all like Kalamazoo.        35
  
The trains come in from the east and hoot for the crossings,
And buzz away to the peach country and Chicago to the west
Or they come from the west and shoot on to the Battle Creek breakfast bazaars
And the speedbug heavens of Detroit.
  
“I hear America, I hear, what do I hear?”        40
Said a loafer lagging along on the sidewalks of Kalamazoo,
Lagging along and asking questions, reading signs.
  
Oh yes, there is a town named Kalamazoo,
A spot on the map where the trains hesitate.
I saw the sign of a five and ten cent store there        45
And the Standard Oil Company and the International Harvester
And a graveyard and a ball grounds
And a short order counter where a man can get a stack of wheats
And a pool hall where a rounder leered confidential like and said:
“Lookin’ for a quiet game?”        50
  
The loafer lagged along and asked,
“Do you make guitars here?
Do you make boxes the singing wood winds ask to sleep in?
Do you rig up strings the singing wood winds sift over and sing low?”
The answer: “We manufacture musical instruments here.”        55
  
Here I saw churches with steeples like hatpins,
Undertaking rooms with sample coffins in the show window
And signs everywhere satisfaction is guaranteed,
Shooting galleries where men kill imitation pigeons,
And there were doctors for the sick,        60
And lawyers for people waiting in jail,
And a dog catcher and a superintendent of streets,
And telephones, water-works, trolley cars,
And newspapers with a splatter of telegrams from sister cities of Kalamazoo the round world over.
  
And the loafer lagging along said:        65
Kalamazoo, you ain’t in a class by yourself;
I seen you before in a lot of places.
If you are nuts America is nuts.
  And lagging along he said bitterly:
  Before I came to Kalamazoo I was silent.        70
  Now I am gabby, God help me, I am gabby.
  
Kalamazoo, both of us will do a fadeaway.
I will be carried out feet first
And time and the rain will chew you to dust
And the winds blow you away.        75
And an old, old mother will lay a green moss cover on my bones
And a green moss cover on the stones of your postoffice and city hall.
  
  Best of all
I have loved your kiddies playing run-sheep-run
And cutting their initials on the ball ground fence.        80
They knew every time I fooled them who was fooled and how.
  
  Best of all
I have loved the red gold smoke of your sunsets;
I have loved a moon with a ring around it
Floating over your public square;        85
I have loved the white dawn frost of early winter silver
And purple over your railroad tracks and lumber yards.
  
  The wishing heart of you I loved, Kalamazoo.
  I sang bye-lo, bye-lo to your dreams.
I sang bye-lo to your hopes and songs.        90
I wished to God there were hound dogs of bronze on your public square,
Hound dogs with bronze paws looking to a long horizon with a shivering silver angel, a creeping mystic what-is-it.

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