Verse > Carl Sandburg > Smoke and Steel > IV. Playthings of the Wind > 25. Yes, the Dead Speak to Us
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Carl Sandburg (1878–1967).  Smoke and Steel. 1922.
  
IV. Playthings of the Wind
25. Yes, the Dead Speak to Us
  
YES, the Dead speak to us.
This town belongs to the Dead, to the Dead and to the Wilderness.
  
Back of the clamps on a fireproof door they hold the papers of the Dead in a house here
And when two living men fall out, when one says the Dead spoke a Yes, and the other says the Dead spoke a No, they go then together to this house.
  
They loosen the clamps and haul at the hasps and try their keys and curse at the locks and the combination numbers.        5
For the teeth of the rats are barred and the tongues of the moths are outlawed and the sun and the air of wind is not wanted.
  
They open a box where a sheet of paper shivers, in a dusty corner shivers with the dry inkdrops of the Dead, the signed names.
Here the ink testifies, here we find the say-so, here we learn the layout, now we know where the cities and farms belong.
Dead white men and dead red men tested each other with shot and knives: they twisted each others’ necks: land was yours if you took and kept it.
  
How are the heads the rain seeps in, the rain-washed knuckles in sod and gumbo?        10
  
Where the sheets of paper shiver,
Back of the hasps and handles,
Back of the fireproof clamps,
  
  They read what the fingers scribbled, who the land belongs to now—it is herein provided, it is hereby stipulated—the land and all appurtenances thereto and all deposits of oil and gold and coal and silver, and all pockets and repositories of gravel and diamonds, dung and permanganese, and all clover and bumblebees, all bluegrass, johnny-jump-ups, grassroots, springs of running water or rivers or lakes or high spreading trees or hazel bushes or sumach or thorn-apple branches or high in the air the bird nest with spotted blue eggs shaken in the roaming wind of the treetops—
  
So it is scrawled here,        15
“I direct and devise
So and so and such and such,”
And this is the last word.
There is nothing more to it.<
  
In a shanty out in the Wilderness, ghosts of to-morrow sit, waiting to come and go, to do their job.        20
They will go into the house of the Dead and take the shivering sheets of paper and make a bonfire and dance a deadman’s dance over the hissing crisp.
In a slang their own the dancers out of the Wilderness will write a paper for the living to read and sign:
The dead need peace, the dead need sleep, let the dead have peace and sleep, let the papers of the Dead who fix the lives of the Living, let them be a hissing crisp and ashes, let the young men and the young women forever understand we are through and no longer take the say-so of the Dead;
Let the dead have honor from us with our thoughts of them and our thoughts of land and all appurtenances thereto and all deposits of oil and gold and coal and silver, and all pockets and repositories of gravel and diamonds, dung and permanganese, and all clover and bumblebees, all bluegrass, johnny-jump-ups, grassroots, springs of running water or rivers or lakes or high spreading trees or hazel bushes or sumach or thornapple branches or high in the air the bird nest with spotted blue eggs shaken in the roaming wind of the treetops.
  
And so, it is a shack of ghosts, a lean-to they have in the Wilderness, and they are waiting and they have learned strange songs how easy it is to wait and how anything comes to those who wait long enough and how most of all it is easy to wait for death, and waiting, dream of new cities.        25

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