Nonfiction > Upton Sinclair, ed. > The Cry for Justice

Upton Sinclair, ed. (1878–1968).
The Cry for Justice: An Anthology of the Literature of Social Protest.  1915.
A Ballad of Dead Girls

By Dana Burnet

(American poet, born 1888)
SCARCE had they brought the bodies down
  Across the withered floor,
Than Max Rogosky thundered at
  The District Leader’s door.
Scarce had the white-lipped mothers come        5
  To search the fearful noon,
Than little Max stood shivering
  In Tom McTodd’s saloon!
In Tom McTodd’s saloon he stood,
  Beside the silver bar,        10
Where any honest lad may stand,
  And sell his vote at par.
“Ten years I’ve paid the System’s tax,”
  The words fell, quivering, raw;
“And now I want the thing I bought—        15
  Protection from the law!”
The Leader smiled a twisted smile:
  “Your doors were locked,” he said.
“You’ve overstepped the limit, Max—
  A hundred women.… dead!”        20
Then Max Rogosky gripped the bar
  And shivered where he stood.
“You listen now to me,” he cried,
  “Like business fellers should!
“I’ve paid for all my hundred dead,        25
  I’ve paid, I’ve paid, I’ve paid.”
His ragged laughter rang, and died—
  For he was sore afraid.
“I’ve paid for wooden hall and stair,
  I’ve paid to strain my floors,        30
I’ve paid for rotten fire-escapes,
  For all my bolted doors.
“Your fat inspectors came and came—
  I crossed their hands with gold.
And now I want the thing I bought,        35
  The thing the System sold.”
The District Leader filled a glass
  With whiskey from the bar,
(The little silver counter where
  He bought men’s souls at par.)        40
And well he knew that he must give
  The thing that he had sold,
Else men should doubt the System’s word,
  Keep back the System’s gold.
The whiskey burned beneath his tongue:        45
  “A hundred women dead!
I guess the Boss can fix it up,
  Go home—and hide,” he said.
.  .  .  .  .  .  .  .
All day they brought the bodies down
  From Max Rogosky’s place—        50
And oh, the fearful touch of flame
  On hand and breast and face!
All day the white-lipped mothers came
  To search the sheeted dead;
And Horror strode the blackened walls,        55
  Where Death had walked in red.
But Max Rogosky did not weep.
  (He knew that tears were vain.)
He paid the System’s price, and lived
  To lock his doors again.        60

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