My Tribute to Pete Seeger

Lone Seagull MDMikus Copyright 2013

Lone Seagull MDMikus Copyright 2013

My family lived in a working-class suburb of Detroit. Mom took care of us (eventually seven kids) and also worked sometimes as a registered nurse. Dad worked in the same factory all his life, mostly midnight shift. He was a card-carrying union man. Our house was originally a two-bedroom bungalow and my Dad partially finished the attic into two more bedrooms (but still only one bathroom). We all had chores and were expected to pitch in. We always had food, shelter, and clothes and did not consider ourselves poor, but hard-working, not many frills, as were most of the people we knew.

I grew up in the 1950’s and 60’s, a singer in church choir and Catholic school chorus. I never met Pete Seeger, nor saw him perform in person, but I was deeply shaped by the Folk Revival he helped spearhead and by his songs. We moved across town in 1965 for us to attend the new Bishop Gallagher High School. Around that time were the Detroit riots and the protest movements were catching fire: against the Vietnam war, against segregation, for peace and equality of race and sex. I sang in the Folk Mass group at church and at some point I learned If I Had a Hammer, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, Turn, Turn, Turn, etc. The music just soaked right into me, in part shaping the clay of who I was becoming.

Shore Rocks in Calm Water MDMikus Copyright 2013

Shore Rocks in Calm Water MDMikus Copyright 2013

Since his death this week I’ve read so many stories posted online of those who knew Pete Seeger and are saddened by his loss. I too wanted to say something about his effect on my life and this poem/song came to me. A unique process from my other writing, and the music still has to be worked out (easy to sing along). But here is the poem/lyrics, my attempt to “catch something of the man.”


My Own Tribute
Pete Seeger, 1919-2014

Although Pete Seeger
traveled here and there,
now he is everywhere.

Though there are those
who would make him saint (or sinner)
he doesn’t care, if he ever did,

for he knows best what we all know
how the days are numbered rare,
now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

Not up on a pedestal I’m sure he’d say,
he was an honest man with a mission,
not down in the gutter either, nor scared,
now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

Singing in his confident voice
inviting us to sing along,
songs that we all know and share,
now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

Not in charge of anything big,
working day to day for the voiceless ones,
a determined “ordinary” man who cared,
now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

All the stories of something kind he said,
from everyone who met him or wished they did,
but when Toshi died last year, he died a bit I swear,
now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

His energy released from form now joins us,
not buried in the ground nor ashes spread,
not in some fancy world “up there,”
now Pete Seeger is everywhere…

singing, playing, chopping wood,
encouraging, traveling, doing good,
planting seeds, making a better place,
playing banjo, eye to eye, face to face,
exhorting us to care, I swear

now Pete Seeger is everywhere.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2014

Update: A few days later I emailed the poem to Rich Warren, who is the host of Folkstage (and The Midnight Special) on WFMT, where Stephen and I are members. I knew Rich would be working on his radio tribute to Pete Seeger and thought he might like it. He said I could read my poem to the audience before Folkstage went on the air. It took me only minutes to agree. In the “spirit of Pete,” the group said the repeating line with me. It was awesome! Thanks, Rich, for the opportunity!

Me at WFMT-- Photo by Stephen Mikus, Copyright 2014

Me at WFMT– Photo by Stephen Mikus, Copyright 2014

Update: Finally, a video of my reading this poem.


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