Eugene V. Debs


My Hoosier Heritage

A blue State Historical Marker denotes the fading home site

Hidden in plain view, resting solo in the vacant

Parking lot of this Red State University campus

In the ironic shade of the Business School building

We make our pilgrimage to Terre Haute

Home of Convict #9653

Five times candidate for President of the United States

Founder of the American Socialist Party

Great American Granddaddy Wobblie

All but forgotten on this last Friday before Xmas 2007

No one comes through the wet grey Indiana day

Save for my songwriting buddy and I

We have a wild hair idea to write the musical

Life and Times of Eugene Victor Debs

And we have come to see for ourselves

The rooms the grand orator occupied

We must bang a good long time

before the old Victorian door opens

A young, plain, socialist girl in silk slippers

And bad skin nods us in; points to the register

And passes us a badly worn typewritten guide

heavily fingered and red-lined

She leaves us quickly, dodging behind an

‘Employees only’ doorway

Grand home, well made, and ornate

Like the man gold initialed alligator bags

And fine folding slippers share display space

With campaign buttons and signed copies of first editions

From Fellow Travelers Upton Sinclair

Mother Jones, Clarence Darrow,

Big Bill Haywoord, even ‘Hoosier Poet’ James Whitcomb Riley

A man for the people, he had a healthy sense of self-importance

Saving every letter, every poster, flyer, poem and speech

Ideas and the words that carried them were sacred

Convicted of treason for his refusal to be silenced

Such radical notions as child labor laws

Women’s suffrage and Right to Organize

Seditious and dangerous ideas a century ago

Now crumble in dusty letter boxes

We climb the stairs and down again

Winding our way through gentile rooms

Papered walls where oiled portraits and framed photos

Tell the story of the American Labor Movement

On the way out, we explain our mission to the

Sullen sister who emerges just as our last steps

Creak down the old firebrand’s stairway

She confides she used to get paid by the Foundation

When she was still an official student

But now the young socialist stays in the basement

Alone with her thoughts and the great man’s relics

We smile knowingly, buy a handful of buttons

And re-enter the harsh haze of daylight

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