Vox Populi: A Public Sphere for Politics and Poetry
for Dorothy Healey (1914-2006)
Dear Ms Ebullient, dear Ms Unstoppable, dear Red Queen
of Los Angeles. Dear Dorothy born Rosenblum,
Red-Diaper Baby. Did you really read Upton Sinclair at 12,
join the Party at 14, give up prom night to get arrested
for vagrancy & disturbing the peace? That is, for passing out
the Daily Worker on Oakland’s skid row & making a speech.
Dear Ms Bogeyman, who dropped out to work with migrants
in San Jose canneries, pitting peaches & organizing a strike.
For years after, you couldn’t stomach a fruit pie.
Dear Ninety Pounds of Dynamite, Dear Big-hearted & Buxom,
your life a blur of organizing, speeches & stir time.
Dear Ms Unflappable who’d trade food stamps for smokes
& catch up on your reading in jail. Dear Dorothy,
did you see your file? Did you know the FBI described you
as loyal, fair-minded & charming? Did you think how you’d
look in that 1949 jailhouse photo, subversively beguiling?
Dear Ms Anachronism, Ms. Historical Artifact, who stood up
to shotguns, prosecutors, strike breakers & loyal Americans.
Dear Ms Fearless, who after the Prague Spring, denounced
the Soviets, stood up to apparatchiks, told Gus Hall to shove it.
Dear Ms Forget-Me-Not, Ms Formidable, what was it like,
speaking for years in LA into that KPFK microphone
still smoking Cigarillos, arguing for feminism, for peace
& justice, denouncing capitalism, your voice firm,
your enunciation flinty, your hard-won breath
barely enough to finish the sentences.
Copyright 2016 Joan E. Bauer.
First published in The Paterson Literary Review. Reprinted by permission of the author.
Dorothy Ray Healey (1914–2006) was a long-time activist in the Communist Party USA, from the late 1920s to the 1970s. In the 1930s, she was one of the first union leaders to advocate for the rights of Chicanos and blacks as factory and field workers. During the decades of the 1950s and 1960s, Healey was one of the leading public figures of the Communist Party in the state of California. An opponent of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and at odds with the orthodox pro-Soviet leadership of Gus Hall, Healey subsequently left the Communist Party to join the New American Movement, which merged to become part of the Democratic Socialists of America in 1982. [source: Wikipedia]
Dorothy Healey in 1949 (photo: Jewish Women’s Archive)