In the Begining

"I don't want to get caught dead in Utah,"


Joseph Hillstrom,
Ellis Island American
Newborn, Coming to open arms
america where even you could be free.

You walked East to West
looking for an honest break.

In West Virginia you crawled
out of of the earth
lungs filled with coal,
You ate your meal
of dust for a day and a half’s wages.

In big brother Chicago you worked
16 hours a day in
for their slitthroatwages.

Oh for spacious sky America
You longed for Great Plains stars.
Trains moving
You got on.

In Kansas you heard songs
of May Day Martyrs and Socialist Saints

In Ludlow you saw
men mined for their sweat

By capitalists dressed as
their caskets carved
by non-union shops,

because the cemetery was all Union.

In California you stood on the other
side of America and found her the same –

The “good” lived off of your sweat
and built their American dream on
The backs of the laboring man
the burden of America
Breaking backs

the backs
of fathers sweating on docks
of sons burning in steel mills
of daughters dying in company houses.
all in the name of



Joe Hill

Newborn American slave of industry, brother of Haymarket blood spilt money murdered masses! brother of Ludlow, mine blood and bone.

Joe Hill stood on the mountain and picked up his guitar and joined the I.W.W., took the wobbly red – wrote songs for men without a voice –

standing up to the devouring men of America who count their wealth by the husks of other mens lives.

The Voiceless

Who were you Joe Hill?
What was your little
red book and its songs

I never saw your blue
eyes and their
Norwegian snow

But I sing your songs

“you will eat by and by in that glorious land
above the sky (way up high)
work and pray, live on hay and you you will get
by in the sky when you die.”

Few remember
you anymore
your memory lost

on your unstrung guitar.
Joe, what are you doing

in Utah?

Were their men in need
of a voice? Were bones
being ground down in Zion?

Did Mammon run free
in the mountains
of the Wasatch?

Joe, why
did you
have to die?

Tripping Justice

A gun fired in a grocery store
A man dead and a son
The echo going south cutting
through the valley

Joe shot also, but
20 miles away arguing over a woman
held quiet in shadows

In Salt Lake City a father
and a son lie dead,
someone would have to pay.

Joe went to the doctor.
The doctor called the Sheriff
The law came for Joe.

Now Joe told them about the fight
20 miles away but no one believed him
Because he would not name names.

While in the rich man’s prison
Joe was found to have been
with the IWW. The men of Copper

and of Zion feared
the poet of the Wobblies.
The money masters trip

the blind folded goddess
of Justice. Mammon kneels
and picks up her scales

Fills one side with copper
and leaves the otherside


They dragged him
They dragged him to their judgement
Tongues wagging in parched mouths lying.

“Confess, confess, confess!” the policemen scream,
“and we will treat you white!”
your silence made them angry

There were no eyewitnesses
no motivation for you to be accused
But there was a higher law in Zion.

Wobblies red is all they saw
Your words threatened the moneymasters,
their hymns turned to fight songs,

Made them glow red
Red the color of war
Red the color of blood

And Joe, you were
Undesirable, Homeless, Friendless

“And Jesus shall come as a thief in the night and the police shall arrest him.”

Important men without honor sit
in the courtroom, they check their
pockets and find Judge Ritche smiling

up at them. A jury of ear-less men grin


A cry goes out

A cry goes out
And a thousand voices answer
And that which was secret is made known.

Men rise from the wheat with golden beards
Blackened men climb out of the earth
Women come out from the bowels of factories
And they cry with one voice

“Justice for Joe Hill!”

The Supreme Court of Utah laughs
“Give law to the lawless, give justice to a man who is silent?”

Jesus stands before Justice Mc Carty and says not a word
And Justice Mc Carty sends Jesus away,

“He must have something to hide?”

Fear of Wobbs

No pardons in Utah
Letters and telegrams
Petitions and prayers

Sit on desks ignored
Fear of wobblies run amok.
Bloody Pinkertons

Haymarket detectives of fear
Dark angels of Capital
Standing guard

at the House of the Lord.
But no wobb war
no violence

Except Salt Lake Officer Major Myton
shooting Wobblie Horton for throwing
insults at him.

Sticks and stones may
break my bones
But words will get you


Joe, Anarchist, Wobbly poet, Boomer
nothing could change what was to come.

Cold Cell

Could you arrange to have my body hauled to the state line to be buried? I don’t want to be found dead in Utah.”

Joe Hill 1915

There were no leaves on the tree in the prison yard.
Your cell was cold
They took you and walked under a gray sky
Feet shackled
They sat you down on a chair
strapped you in
cinched leather against your waist chest and arms.
“do not move too much,” said the guard, “you do not want them to miss.”
He pins a paper heart to your chest.
The captain of the guard opens his pocket watch
a crow flies overhead
thousands from sea to sea are singing your songs
the captain lifts the collar of his coat
“”Aim commanded the captain of the guard.
“Yes aim, let her go, fire!” you screamed.

Those were your last words
as 6 bullets tear away
the paper heart.

A Coffin Filled with Roses

Joe Hill,
Wobbly American
Martyred saint of labor.

your coffin lay quit
Thousands came
to your side,

each bringing a red rose.
your coffin was covered with thirty
thousand red roses.

Wobbly red roses
that still bloom
on window sills
against fence posts

and in jails of every land
your ghost still riding the rails

looking for those without a voice.