What do you get when you put Woody Guthrie, carbon monoxide, frozen custard, and Cheez Doodles in a big metal box and shake it for two hours?
There are buses more famous than Iris (also known as the Forward Bus), but none more magical. And there are bus rides more significant than the one I joined on Friday, November 15th, 2013, but never a ride filled with more joy. And there are bus riders more famous, who sacrificed more than I ever will for the causes of freedom and economic fairness, but nobody who ever had more fun.
In a wonderful convergence of anniversaries, Madison participants of the Solidarity Sing Along joined the Overpass Light Brigade and some of the world’s finest poets for a public reading of “TURN UP THE VOLUME: POEMS ABOUT THE STATES OF WISCONSIN”, a beautiful hand-bound limited edition chapbook. The reading was held at the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee. All proceeds went to the First Amendment Protection Fund to help pay court costs for the more than 300 people arrested for singing in the Wisconsin Capitol.
It happened to be the two year anniversary of the founding of the Overpass Light Brigade. The Sing Along, just the day before, marked its 700th consecutive weekday, noon-hour singing protest at the Wisconsin Capitol.
It was also the eve of the anniversary of the birth of Father James Groppi, a civil rights icon and perhaps the most famous bus driver in Wisconsin history. That birthday fact was noted at the poetry reading by the widow of Father Groppi and organizer of the event, Margaret Rozga.
The singers, many of whom had been arrested and were the subjects of some of the poems, arrived in style and maybe a bit light-headed from the gas fumes. The singers led the crowd in song between readings.
It was a healing night – joy and outrage expressed in a safe space where artists and activists embraced, switched roles, then embraced again.
We laughed and sang on the way home, but on the way we stopped for frozen custard and burgers at a landmark custard stand just a few blocks from the home of Governor Walker. The teenagers hanging around outside were fascinated by the bus. They took photos of themselves standing next to it and were eager to learn about the Solidarity Sing Along.
As a token of my appreciation to Margaret Rozga and the other poets, I offer perhaps the world's worst poem about a bus ride. It is titled "The Doodles Abide" and it begins just past that little Cheez Doodle below.
Paint your emergency with flowers and bluebirds while you stop and go, stop and go. Red light green light child’s play. Who let Rover on this bus?
Pick up some firestones on Penney Lane. Everyone out for a quick sunset snap. Have you sung happy birthday to chaos? Maybe you should before it’s too late. Doodly-do, happy birthday to you!
“No more tickets!” shout the conductors. “Talismans only, or maybe a tune. Br’m, br’m, br’m, br’oooom!”
Save the water! Save the Earth! It's time for dessert, so save your forks!
The wheels on the bus go see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh, see-oh.
Please pass the doodles. Are we there yet?
We’re here! We’re here! Shuffle off the bus and head toward the wavy lights. DON’T WALK , DON’T WALK , DON’T WALK , DON’T WALK …SING! If this is P O E T I C J U S T I C E, then we’re here to be booked.
Peggy Sue, how my heart yearns for you, but we must lean on the art.
Br’m, br’m, br’m, br’ooooooom! See-oh, see-oh, see-oh.
Iris, my eyes are smiling, so why are you so cold?
Don’t you know we’re getting old?
It’s after midnight now, I’m told.
What can you do to warm my soul?
Hugs for the squirrels! Candy-coated quotes! Bells and weenie-whistles! That’ll do!
Chaous it was who delivered us here,
but poets were there putting bugs in our ears.
Their prayers of justice echoed us home.
The doodles abide.