“Just two wops in a jam.”

“That’s where Sacco and Vanzetti were electrocuted,”

My father said, driving past the Charles St. prison

In our new ’34 Ford.  That’s all.

Those strange names stuck as did the image

Of that gothic fortress at the base of the Pepperpot,

And even then I know “electrocuted” meant terror

Because I had shoved one of my mother’s hairpins

Into a wall-socket and blacked-out the house

In a shower of colors, blown every fuse.

Decades later, I read in a New-York reporter’s

1920 telegram from Boston to his editor:

“Just two wops in a jam.”

I celebrate them, anarchists and draft dodgers

Who know the state is the enemy,

Praise their simple acts,

The practice of going to streets and mill gates

To hand out raw sheets revealing how

Property is theft.


                                                Hollowed out workers

In shoe-factory towns have never wanted to investigate

The sources of their sorrows, their rages.

Two men tried for change, died for trying.

Quivering white-haired Massachusetts had to kill them.

Nicola and Bartolomeo, names no longer strange,

The unjust whiz of your shock still shakes me,

Burns into me, and I claim kinship

With both of you, “just two wops in a jam.”

You give me one way of saying “I am.”

From Touch Poems

By Karl Patten


The judicial murder of Sacco and Vanzetti shocked the world.  Many have written about this famous case; this poem is my own reaction, semi-autobiographical.  From my college days I knew about them, and they became heroes for me, but it was coming across that New York reporter’s vulgar telegram that pushed me into writing a poem about those two Italian anarchists, a celebration of them and for what they believed in.  Because of that they are true American heroes.  Thos they were executed for murder, they stoutly insisted on their innocence for seven years, and it was perfectly clear that Massachusetts killed them because they knew that “the state is the enemy.”

To say this today does not mean that I am a right-wing libertarian – anything but.  However, it is the state that makes wars (and we have not fought a constitutional war since 1941), and wars are lusciously profitable for capitalism.  To take a firm stand against war will make us stand against the state.  The everlasting horrors in the Middle East today were never chosen by the people, and when blood flows there our civil rights, social privileges, and thin wallets bleed here.

In the 1980’s Massachusetts pardoned Sacco and Vanzetti.

Karl Patten


One thought on ““Just two wops in a jam.”

  1. I saw the documentary and couldn’t help but write some emotions done that eventually became this poem: Sacco and Vanzetti – One more poem. It was funny to find yours on the subject too. Regards.

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