Hull of a House

A Poem for Jane Addams Day


You may not know it, but today is Jane Addams Day, an Illinois commemorative holiday and the only one named for a woman.  On Jane Addams Day, we celebrate Jane Addams for being America’s first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jane Addams Day is celebrated thanks to two years of petitioning by Dongola Junior High School students and their teacher, Cindy Vines. The students traveled to Springfield to rally for the proposed holiday, eventually gaining the support of state representatives and then Lieutenant Governor, Pat Quinn.

The following poem, written by Kevin Coval, was commissioned on the inaugural Jane Addams Day in 2006.  You can listen to Kevin reading this poem here.

remains. Jane Addams town
Giants look in mirrors and see / almost nothing at all
Gwendolyn Brooks

Jane Addams is dead
like Fred Hampton
who chicago shot
sleeping in bed
next to his pregnant wife.

for she is ghost,
haunting the utopian.
the city and house
built by her faith
encompassed in c.r.e.a.m.
(cash rules everything
around me). ask uic,
depaul, uofc, area 21
planners who dictate
and red line and run
over Pilsen, pave over
Maxwell St, who forget
what we look like
when we work with our hands,
when we hunger and live in tenements,
when we labor in unsafe conditions
and livable wages get transported abroad
and the communities left without labor
become the unsafe conditions of crack(s)
and crevices and guttered alleys before rehab

and who bought all the land after 1968
and who benefits from university village
and who wants Latin Kings locked in privatized cages
though they are sixteen year old boys who got left behind
in CPS (the chicago prison system), and the renaissance
in 2010 will be repealing brown v. board and the schools
will again look like the city and their will be no crossings;
no Devon Ave., no Rogers Park, no Little Village / Lawndale taqueria
no Hull House mash up collage, where 2000 immigrants a week
play music, sip coffee, watch theater, read books, organize labor
and their lives, together in the kitchen close enough to smell
each others funk and taste each others foreign sauces,

there will be no one left if the planners remain undeterred.
if the giants sleep undisturbed.

this is conjecture.

if Jane Addams were a Black man
she’d be dead by white hands, at least
bound and gagged like the boss
did Bobby Seale.

you can’t go into white folks homes
and get them cleanin up the place
unless they pay you for domestic work
or invite you in for finger foods.

Jane Addams’s birth right wrote her among the wealthy.
her and Ellen Gates Starr and Florence Kelly and a bunch
of their homegirls; white women who flipped, deemed crazy
and prescribed bed rest, who moved into each other, out
side of marriage and single family homes, who questioned the nature
of domesticity. the home maker is maker of culture
and the culture is broad like the people are broad
shouldered, hulling hours in jobs that should be valued like the jobs of bosses
and the fate of bosses and the people are the same cuz we live
in the same house, where we hull and haul our bodies into public space
where all bodies should be clothed and fed and coddled and caressed freely
by the hands of doctors and cooks, lovers and communists, american these hands,
immigrant and chained, dirty and clean finger nailed, raw and stubborn, the
home and public space blurred, or extended like the good and goods a citizen should be offered.
whose america are we living in anyway and who has the courage to say what could be

who constructs the chicago we call sweet
who tastes the candy, who is paying the dentist
who lines pocket books green
who blue-lights corners of brown neighborhoods
who oversees west side stoops where children double dutch
who sends fabled blue collars over seas, who pioneers
who has déjà vu, who sees colonial too, like double dutch
who is from the place they are from
who knows what their neighbors want for Christmas
who knows if their if neighbors celebrate Christmas
who is family, who counts nepotism and legacy
who is confined to the grave and gravity
who is brave, who has bravado, who aches for zion
who has been told no and never
who wakes before the sun / for their sons
who lives though death is certain

Algren said
since it’s a ninth inning town…
it remains Jane Addams’ town
cuz the ballgame is never over.

and we need heroes
who stand up to giants,
who carry a big bat to home plate
though the pitcher is throwing money
balls and the umps are in on the fix.

Chicago remains Jane Addams town
cuz Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn
dream here and Haki Madhubuti builds
institutions and Lavie Raven teaches
in a high school mothers made
by refusing to eat until the children
of Little Village had the same quality
education gold coast children deserve.

it remains Jane Addams town
cuz Marc Smith is at the Green Mill
and Nikki Mitchell’s at the Velvet Lounge
and there are men and women who can’t go
cuz they work the third shift and their lovers
will miss them until morning, when they will
pass like elevated trains close enough to touch
but never at the same station cuz there is work
to be done, and Studs Terkel refuses to quit
and my father is in a basement trying,
and the Cubs put on uniforms every season,
and Rami Nashashibi is the Muslim Martin King,
and Beth Richie wants the world to stop beating
Black women and their daughters, stop dictating
their bodies locked. start freedom.

Sun Ra, Ana Castillo, Ang 13, Ken Vandemark,
Koko Talyor, Sam Cooke, Rick Kogan writes here,
Stuart Dybek, Patricia Smith, Cap D, Lupe Fiasco,
and names never spoken, faces covered in knit wool
tucked beneath the Kennedy, faces forlorn and worn
wandering Michigan Avenue, Lavel blind between
red and blue lines at Jackson, Oba Maja passing out
poems at the six corners of Damen and North Ave.,
David schizophrenic in front of the Wicker Park
post office holding out cups asking for change

who is asking for change

it remains Jane Addams town
cuz of the people
working for change
and the people
are working for change
and the people never really change
but stay working, toiling in the death
of industry, though the light dims
the people who work for change
know tomorrow is
ahead of them.