December 20, 2012

Poem of the Week: A Whole Wheat Poem [For Peggy]


Gary Allan Kizer

When a friend bakes you bread,
You eat their labor, which requires respect and teeth.
Eating the bread is your own labor, exchanged fairly
And no longer a commodity.

I cannot bake bread in return, I cook cans
On a lightbulb and they would be cold in the mail.
But I can write poems for bread bakers
And give them away free.

The bread you buy in the store is sour,
Too many hands have passed it toward the market.
You can no longer taste the bread bakers love,
All you can taste are sadness, routine.

Next time you go shopping, ask the man for
Bread with love in it, the free bread.
Free bread? With love in it? We're fresh out,
He'll answer, if he answers at all.

If our work tastes bad, think of those
Who own it, who buy it for enough to eat
Stale bread with. Think of those who stamp
A price on things we should do for each other.

When a friend bakes you bread, it in no way helps
Build your body strong in twelve different ways,
Or keep phony monks in business. It quietly asks you
To eat the revolution without rat shit mixed in.

from Let A Single Flower Blossom
(the greenfield review press, 1977)

[This poem touches several issues, especially the question of labor done for love as opposed to labor done for hire, one also addressed by Morris Rosenfeld in an earlier PotW, "For Hire."

Gary Allan Kizer wrote several superb poems. This chapbook is out of print, unfortunately. To give you a better idea of where he's coming from, here's part of his introduction to the chapbook, as it has more information than is readily findable on the Internet:
I was born on a farm outside of Salamanca, New York. Soon after, my parents moved to Buffalo and went to work in the munitions industry toward the end of WWII. My dad split when I was five and I was raised in Buffalo by my mother and two older sisters. Following that came public school, young romance, juvenile delinquency and my first experience as a ward of the State. After 13 months of that, I cam home at 16, forged a birth certificate for 18 and went into the merchant marine. I also met a good woman. We lived common-law for 6 years and raised 5 children. I worked in the steel plants and as a roofer during the last 3 years I spent with my family. Then a man died and i went to Attica State Prison with a life sentence on my back. That was 9 years and 5 different prisons ago. I began reading Karl Marx during my third year in prison. About the same time, the State judged me as being incapable of rehabilitation. I hold the same opinion of the State. Read the book and see who's right.]

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December 16, 2012

I Have a 4-Year-Old Daughter. In the U.S. Today.

By Michael Leonardi

My daughter is 4 and she goes to school in this country of the United States. My wife and I are seriously contemplating leaving for her safety, not only from the sporadic violence but from the toxicity of poisoned air and water and land and the incredible emotional burden it is putting on us. Is there anywhere left to go on this Earth, to escape the bloody grip of the militarization, violence and contamination of our global economy coupled with the broadening societal psychosis? These United States have a policy of killing children around the world. At least in many other parts of the world life is held to be far more sacred, while here it too often seems that we are reduced to numbers of dead and collateral damage.

Today I was dealing with the county welfare office where there are a good number of young people who entered the field of social work in hopes of helping people. Each caseworker is responsible for 700 families and these young people whot are trying their best to help people are reduced to dealing with damage control in a system that is an overburdened, underfunded nightmare. I have learned that to receive assistance in the state of Ohio you must work at least 35 hours a week and that this work is paid barely minimum wage that does not allow people enough to survive in one of the poorest cities in America -- Toledo, Ohio. Here in Toledo about 60 people have been killed by guns this year -- mostly young people.

In this city and its surrounding suburbs there are many that claim we are blessed by the likes of British Petroleum Corporation, First Energy Corporation, Chrysler Corporation, Detroit Edison Corporation, which provide under 3 percent of the regional population good paying jobs to poison our air and water. It is said by our politicians that nuclear power, refining oil, burning coal, and making cars are what makes our city strong.

When I was dealing with the welfare office today, I finally spoke to a young woman who was very helpful after waiting on hold for over half an hour -- the average wait time when calling Jobs and Family Services. When I asked her name she explained that for security reasons they were not allowed to give out names on the phone because people have been tracked down on Facebook and threatened. She was number 63. I don't want my daughter to grow up to be a number in a society that does not value life--human life, or the rest of the natural world to which we should be so integrally linked.

In Italy recently there has been a major movement developing around this concept of respect for life. This movement is also happening in Japan and India and Egypt and Gaza and Canada and Pakistan and many other places where people have had enough. I know Italy because my daughter was born there. Workers have walked out the largest steel plant in Europe because they do not want to choose between a good paying job and the risk of their child developing early childhood leukemia and dying a miserable death as many children in the town surrounding this plant have been. The United States has a major military base nearby as they do in many areas of Italy. The bankers at the helm of the country are attempting to overrule the judges, the citizens and the workers that want this plant shut down. The United States military has been dumping radioactive waste around Italy, most recently near the northern city of Trieste.

In the United States of America there is such a movement but it is tiny as the society suffers from a myopic and sickly depression. Many are drugged into oblivion on antidepressants fed to them by criminal Pharmaceutical companies that part own our government along with the military and energy companies that keep everyone thinking that all is gonna be just fine again soon. In this country many children are drugged from a very early age, and the rest of the world thinks this is a sickening madness. Those that aren't clinging to sick care seem content to pretend that nothing is seriously wrong, while still others feel powerless in the face of it all and do nothing. In this country many children are drugged from a very early age. The rest of the world thinks this is a sickening madness. You would be hard pressed to find any child on Ritalin in most countries. It is as if America has been zombified.

Shortly after the Columbine shootings president Clinton said that "we need to teach our children to resolve conflicts without violence." Today, Obama cried as many of us have. These presidents uphold a system of killing around the world. Bombs drop in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, from our unmanned drones killing children regularly. Here are some excerpts ofrom Michael Moore's film Bowling For Columbine that still today hold many truths,

At the U.S. Air Force Academy, south of Littleton, we see a shell of a B-52 bomber as a memorial to the North Vietnamese people it killed on Christmas Eve, 1972. Then Michael Moore’s voice-over continues, as we see images of Rocky Flats, where weapons-grade plutonium was manufactured—now a vast toxic waste dump. A few miles away is NORAD, buried in Cheyenne Mt., the center of all nuclear weapons control in case of a World War. Then Moore notes that once a month Lockheed transports one of its completed missiles on the highways of Littleton—late in the night. Moore’s voice-over: “…passing nearby Columbine High School. The rockets are transported in the middle of the night, while the children of Columbine are asleep.”


Graphic on the screen: “April 20, 1999.” Shots of the bombing of Kosovo, conducted under the aegis of NATO. Graphic on screen: “Largest one day bombing by U.S. in Kosovo War”—a title that’s more than a little misleading. Then file footage of dead villagers killed when bombs were accidentally dropped on their village. Cut to Pres. Clinton, who says, “We are striking hard at Serbia’s machinery of repression.” Then we hear a foreign correspondent’s voice saying “on the hit list were a hospital and a local primary school.” Graphic on the screen: “One Hour Later.” We see President Clinton again. “We all know there has been a terrible shooting in a high school in Littleton, Colorado. I hope the American people will be praying for the students, and the parents, and the teachers."

This country has a long way to go to healing and until the chains of slavery to a neoliberal police state are shaken, the process will not have even begun.

Michael Leonardi is a Toledo resident, an activist currently working to end nuclear power and a frequent contributor to Counterpunch.

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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.]

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