Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
for Sacco and Vanzetti
In Braintree, ten miles south of Boston
a touring car parks on Railroad Avenue.
A haggard man at the wheel.
At three o’clock
the paymaster and guard pick up
metal cashboxes, start down
Pearl Street toward the shoe factory.
Shots, gunmen. The dark car
speeds down Pearl, disappears.
At your death, they call you
Dago Christs. Seven years of prison.
Nicola and Bartolomeo:
shoemaker and fish peddler.
Did you murder the paymaster?
Did you shoot the guard?
Does it matter that the blue Buick
is not a black Hudson,
or that no witness can place
Vanzetti at the scene?
Your story makes families uneasy.
Mothers and fathers whisper: not a tale
Don’t want to be the wrong kind of Italian.
Los Angeles, 1927.
The Dispartes are the first Italians on the street.
Grandpa gives up the traveling band,
buys a truck
to haul fruit. He builds a grader
so he can measure the oranges, put them in boxes,
in neat rows by size.
The boys only chase my mother a few times,
throw rocks, called her dago.
Newly planted palm trees line
the straight, long streets: Vernon, Figueroa, Alvarado.
A long way from a trial in Dedham.
Bullet 3 was not the bullet fired in Braintree.
Vanzetti had, as he swore, been selling fish
in Plymouth that April day.
Nicola and Bartolomeo—
what lives might you have chosen?
Non il vento cancella il tua nome.
The wind does not cancel your name.
We are fortunato.
We are not wops “without papers” or anarchists.
We are respectable, sumptuously assimilated.
We sift the crumbs of history
in dim cafes, tend cappuccinos, grow nostalgic for
the Arno, the Po, the Tiber. Olive groves.
Copyright 2016 Joan E. Bauer. Previously published in Italian Americana and reprinted in Vox Populi by permission of the author.
Sacco (left) and Vanzetti (right)
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were Italian-born US anarchists who were convicted of murdering a guard and a paymaster during the armed robbery of the Slater and Morrill Shoe Company on April 15, 1920, in South Braintree, Massachusetts, United States, and were executed by the electric chair seven years later at Charlestown State Prison. Both adhered to an anarchist movement that advocated relentless warfare against what they perceived as a violent and oppressive government.
After a few hours’ deliberation, the jury found Sacco and Vanzetti guilty of first-degree murder on July 14, 1921. A series of appeals followed, funded largely by the private Sacco and Vanzetti Defense Committee. The appeals were based on recanted testimony, conflicting ballistics evidence, a prejudicial pre-trial statement by the jury foreman, and a confession by an alleged participant in the robbery. All appeals were denied by trial judge Webster Thayer and eventually by the Massachusetts State Supreme Court. By 1925, the case had drawn worldwide attention. As details of the trial and the men’s suspected innocence became known, Sacco and Vanzetti became the center of one of the largest causes célèbres in modern history. In 1927, protests on their behalf were held in every major city in North America and Europe, as well as in Tokyo, Sydney, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, Buenos Aires, and Johannesburg.[source: Wikipedia]