How a Skyscraper and a Railroad Train Got Picked Up and Carried Away from Pig's Eye Valley Far in the Pickax Mountains

Carl Sandburg January 14, 2019
North American
Intermediate
6 min read
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    Peter Potato Blossom Wishes sat with her three cats, Hannah, Hannah More, and Sus- quehannah, one spring morning. She was asking different kinds of questions of the three cats. But she always got the same answers no matter what she asked them. They were whispering cats. Hannah was a yes-yes cat and always whispered yes-yes and nothing else. Hannah More was a no-no cat and always whispered no-no and nothing else. And Susquehannah was a stuttering cat and whispered halfway between yes and no, always hesitating and nothing else.

    “The bye-low is whistling his bye-low and bye-low again,” Peter said to herself with a murmur. “It is spring in the tall timbers and over the soft black lands. The hoo hoo and the biddywiddies come north to make a home again. The booblow blossoms put their cool white lips out into the blue mist. Every way I point my ears there is a bye-low whistling his bye-low and bye-low again. The spring in the timbers and black lands calls to the spring aching in my heart.”

    Now the three whispering cats heard what Peter Potato Blossom Wishes was murmuring to herself about the spring heartache. And Hannah, the yes-yes cat, answered yes- yes. Hannah More, the no-no cat, answered no-no. And Susquehannah, the stuttering cat, hesitated halfway between yes-yes and no-no. And Peter rubbed their fur the right way, scratched them softly between the ears, and murmured to herself, “It is a don’t-care morning—I don’t care.” And that morning her heart gave a hoist and a hist when she saw a speck of a blackbird spot far and high in the sky. Coming nearer it hummed, zoomed, hong whonged . . . shut off the hong whong . . . stoplocked and droplocked . . . and came down on the ground like a big easy bird with big wings stopped.

    Hoom Slimmer slid out, wiped his hands on the oil rags, put a smear of axle grease on Peter’s chin, kissed her on the nose, patted her ears two pats—and then they went into the house and had a late breakfast which was her second breakfast and his first. “I flew till I came to Pig’s Eye Valley in the Pickax Mountains,” Hoom Slimmer told her. “The pickax pigs there run digging with their pickax feet and their pickax snouts. They are lean, long-legged pigs with pockets all over, fat pocket ears ahead and fat pocket tails behind, and the pockets full of rusty dust. They dip their noses in their pockets, sniff their noses full of rusty dust, and sneeze the rusty dust in each other’s wrinkly, wriggly, wraggly faces. “I took out a buzz shovel and scraper, pushed on the buzzer, and watched it dig and scrape out a city. The houses came to my ankles. The factories came to my knees. The top of the roof of the highest skyscraper came up to my nose.

    “A spider ran out of a cellar. A book fell out of his mouth. It broke into rusty dust when I took hold of it. One page I saved. The reading on it said millions of people had read the book and millions more would read it.” Hoom Slimmer reached into a pocket. He took out in his hand a railroad train with an engine hooked on ahead, and a smoking car, coaches and sleeping cars hooked on behind. “I cleaned it nice for you, Peter,” he said. But the pickax pigs sneezed rusty dust on it. Put it in your handkerchief.” “And now,” he went on, “I will wrap off the wrappers on the skyscraper. . . . Look at it! … It is thirty stories high.

    On top is a flagpole for a flag to go up. Halfway down is a clock, with the hands gone. On the first floor is a restaurant with signs, ‘Watch Your Hats and Overcoats.’ Here is the office of the building, with a sign on the wall, ‘Be Brief.’ Here the elevators ran up and down in a hurry. On doors are signs, bankers, doctors, lawyers, life insurance, fire insurance, steam hoist and operating engineers, bridge and structural iron and steel construction engineers, stocks, bonds, securities, architects, writers, detectives, window cleaners, jewelry, diamonds, cloaks, suits, shirts, sox, silk, wool, cotton, lumber, brick, sand, corn, oats, wheat, paper, ink, pencils, knives, guns, land, oil, coal, one door with a big sign, ‘We Buy and Sell Anything,’ another door, ‘We Fix Anything,’ and more doors, ‘None Such,’ ‘The World’s Finest,’ ‘The Best in the World,’ ‘Oldest Establishment in the World,’ ‘The World’s Greatest,’ ‘None Greater,’ ‘Greatest in the World,’ ‘Greatest Ever Known.'”

    And Hoom Slimmer put his arms around the skyscraper, lifted it on his shoulder, and carried it upstairs where Peter Potato Blossom said to put it, in a corner of her sleeping room. And she took out of her handkerchief the railroad train with the engine hooked on ahead and the smoking car, coaches and sleeping cars, hooked on behind. And she put the railroad train just next to the bottom floor of the skyscraper so people on the train could step off the train and step right into the skyscraper. “Little railroad trains and little skyscrapers are just as big for little people as big railroad trains and big skyscrapers are for big people —is it not such?” she asked Hoom Slimmer. And for an answer he gave her a looking glass half as long as her little finger and said,  “The women in that skyscraper used to look at themselves from head to foot in that looking glass.”

    Then Peter sang out like a spring bird song, “Now we are going to forget the pickax pigs sneezing rusty dust, and the Pig’s Eye Valley and the Pickax Mountains. We are going out where the bye-low is whistling his bye-low and bye-low again, where it is spring in the tall timbers and over the soft black lands, where the hoo hoo and the biddywiddies come north to make a home again and the booblow blossoms put their cool white lips out into the blue mist.” And they sat under a tree where the early green of spring crooned in the black branches, and they could hear Hannah, Hannah More and Susquehannah, whispering yes-yes, no-no, and a hesitating stutter halfway between yes- yes, and no-no, always hesitating.

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