To Mary Harris Jones (first letter)

Dear Mary,


You’ve been in the past all my life, a part of struggles that can seem so evolving (and commonly held) in comparison to my own.  I imagine your world as discursive, undecided too, socially engaged while undetermined, incredibly promising.  I’d like to fill you in on the current state of things.  Then again, you deserve better news, and besides, you must have a sense of it already, even in death.

I suspect you need faith (even more than truth) to occupy the present.  How else does one continue to “pray for the dead, and fight like hell for the living”?
The frontiers initiated by the colonial elites now breach the genetic structure of our bodies.  Their killing fields are redeveloping the foundations of the universe.  Deregulated labor, concentrated wealth, rampant speculation, mass poverty, disenfranchisement, isolation, the pursuit and maintenance of empire to construct, access and control markets, the enslavement of law, governance and media by capital, the reduction of people to something less than things – it has all survived the muzzled implosion of ethical consciousness through the close of the last millenia.  They’ve outlived your arrival and infer your permanent departure too.
she’ll be coming ’round the mountain when she comes

she’ll be drivin’ six white horses when she comes

oh we’ll all come out to meet her when she comes

she’ll be wearing pink pajamas when she comes

we will kill the old red rooster when she comes

we’ll all be shoutin’ “Halleluja” when she comes

Some say the lyrics were inspired by your attempts to form labor unions in the coal mining camps of Appalachia.  Surely you knew this while listening to “your boys”.  Did they ever acknowledge the old slave spiritual the song was derived from?  “She” was a chariot carrying Christ to the rapture:


Who will drive the chariot when she comes?

What would you bring us now if you could?
Who will drive the chariot when she comes?


The question pours out of its origins.  It fills me with an irrational, knowing sense of your continued re-emergence.

The heart is broken and nursed by it too.  There you are sometimes (I could swear it), animating so many souls with nothing left to lose, folks who don’t have reprieve in morally ambiguous ironies and cynical reasoning, people without painkillers.
Could I ever be one of them?  If I were to lose my family (as you once did to yellow fever) could I keep going, let alone think of others?  How did you (a poor, middle-aged and widowed immigrant woman, caught between centuries, her children dead and livelihood burnt to ashes) address the unwashed hungry crowds, risking arrest, torture and death, while paternally embracing armies of desperate workers and layabouts?
It’s as if your fearlessness could miraculously reprogram the ruthlessly patriarchal, competitive conditions of modern existence, garnering the fiercest loyalties in those you stood with.  I believe it has held your reins past defeat, through all of this collapsed time between us, carrying faith, righteousness and the gift of organization still.