Upton Sinclair, ed. (18781968). The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest. 1915.
By Arturo M. Giovannitti
(Italian student and clergyman, born 1884, who left the Church for the labor movement. During the strike at Lawrence, Mass., he was arrested upon a charge of constructive murder. He spoke in his own defense at Salem Court House, November 23, 1912)
I HEAR footsteps over my head all night.
They come and they go. Again they come and they go all night.
They come one eternity in four paces and they go one eternity in four paces, and between the coming and the going there is Silence and the Night and the Infinite.
For infinite are the nine feet of a prison cell, and endless is the march of him who walks between the yellow brick wall and the red iron gate, thinking things that cannot be chained and cannot be locked, but that wander far away in the sunlit world, each in a wild pilgrimage after a destined goal.
. . . . . . . .
Throughout the restless night I hear the footsteps over my head.
Who walks? I know not. It is the phantom of the jail, the sleepless brain, a man, the man, the Walker.
Onetwothreefour: four paces and the wall.
Onetwothreefour: four paces and the iron gate.
He has measured his space, he has measured it accurately, scrupulously, minutely, as the hangman measures the rope and the grave-digger the coffinso many feet, so many inches, so many fractions of an inch for each of the four paces.
Onetwothreefour. Each step sounds heavy and hollow over my head, and the echo of each step sounds hollow within my head as I count them in suspense and in dread that once, perhaps, in the endless walk, there may be five steps instead of four between the yellow brick wall and the red iron gate.
I have heard in the sudden icy silence him who coughs a dry, ringing cough, and wished madly that his throat would not rattle so and that he would not spit on the floor, for no sound was more atrocious than that of his sputum upon the floor;
I have heard him who swears fearsome oaths which I listen to in reverence and awe, for they are holier than the virgins prayer;
And I have heard, most terrible of all, the silence of two hundred brains all possessed by one single, relentless, unforgiving, desperate thought,
But nothing is louder, harder, drearier, mightier, more awful than the footsteps I hear over my head all night.
. . . . . . . .
All through the night he walks and he thinks. Is it more frightful because he walks and his footsteps sound hollow over my head, or because he thinks and speaks not his thoughts?
But does he think? Why should he think? Do I think? I only hear the footsteps and count them. Four steps and the wall. Four steps and the gate. But beyond? Beyond? Where goes he beyond the gate and the wall?
He does not go beyond. His thought breaks there on the iron gate. Perhaps it breaks like a wave of rage, perhaps like a sudden flow of hope, but it always returns to beat the wall like a billow of helplessness and despair.
He walks to and fro within the narrow whirlpit of this ever storming and furious thought. Only one thoughtconstant, fixed, immovable, sinister, without power and without voice.
A thought of madness, frenzy, agony and despair, a hell-brewed thought, for it is a natural thought. All things natural are things impossible while there are jails in the worldbread, work, happiness, peace, love.
But he thinks not of this. As he walks he thinks of the most superhuman, the most unattainable, the most impossible thing in the world:
He thinks of a small brass key that turns just half around and throws open the red iron gate.
. . . . . . . .
That is all the Walker thinks, as he walks throughout the night.
And that is what two hundred minds drowned in the darkness and the silence of the night think, and that is also what I think.
Wonderful is the supreme wisdom of the jail that makes all think the same thought. Marvelous is the providence of the law that equalizes all, even in mind and sentiment. Fallen is the last barrier of privilege, the aristocracy of the intellect. The democracy of reason has leveled all the two hundred minds to the common surface of the same thought.
I, who have never killed, think like the murderer;
I, who have never stolen, reason like the thief;
I think, reason, wish, hope, doubt, wait like the hired assassin, the embezzler, the forger, the counterfeiter, the incestuous, the raper, the drunkard, the prostitute, the pimp, I, I who used to think of love and life and flowers and song and beauty and the ideal.
A little key, a little key as little as my little finger, a little key of shining brass.
All my ideas, my thoughts, my dreams are congealed in a little key of shiny brass.
All my brain, all my soul, all the suddenly surging latent powers of my deepest life are in the pocket of a white-haired man dressed in blue.
He is great, powerful, formidable, the man with the white hair, for he has in his pocket the mighty talisman which makes one man cry, and one man pray, and one laugh, and one cough, and one walk, and all keep awake and listen and think the same maddening thought.
Greater than all men is the man with the white hair and the small brass key, for no other man in the world could compel two hundred men to think for so long the same thought. Surely when the light breaks I will write a hymn unto him which shall hail him greater than Mohammed and Arbues and Torquemada and Mesmer, and all the other masters of other mens thoughts. I shall call him Almighty, for he holds everything of all and of me in a little brass key in his pocket.
Everything of me he holds but the branding iron of contempt and the claymore of hatred for the monstrous cabala that can make the apostle and the murderer, the poet and the procurer, think of the same gate, the same key and the same exit on the different sunlit highways of life.