December 11, 2012

Poem of the Week: Working on Wall Street


May Swenson

What's left of the sun's watered blood
settles between the slabs of Wall Street.
Winter rubs the sky bruise-blue as flesh.
We head down into the subway, glad
the cars are padded with bodies so we
keep warm. Emptied from tall closets
where we work, on the days' shelves
reached by elevators, the heap of us,
pressed by iron sides, dives forward under
the city--parcels shipped out in a trunk.

The train climbs from its cut to the trestle.
Sunset's gone. Those slabs across the murky
river have shrunk to figurines, reflectiing
the blush of neon, a dainty tableau, all
pink, on the dresser top of Manhattan--
eclipsed as we sink into the tunnel.
The train drops and flattens for the long
bore under Brooklyn.

Night, a hiatus hardly real, tomorrow
this double rut of steel will racket us back
to the city, We, packages in the trade
made day after day, will tumble out of
hatches on The Street, to be met by swags
of wind that scupper off those roofs
(their upper windows blood-filled by the sun,)
Delivered into lobbies, clapped into upgoing
cages, sorted to our compartments, we'll be
stamped once more for our wages.


[I was a bit surprised that this brilliantly written work by one of the 20th century's great poets didn't get any play during the heyday of Occupy Wall Street! last year. Though I've never seen any indication May Swenson was a Red, or even hung around with them, her poem recasts the daily labors of office workers in the financial district as literal commodities. 
And it presents a vision of the daily commute to and from Brooklyn that could have been written this evening. Reading it, I am forcibly reminded of my comrades who struggled to build Office Workers United and unionize clerical workers in the towers of Manhattan in the '70s.]

1 comment:

Meizhu Lui said...

Fabulous. Thanks for this gem.