Working People's Poetry Competition
The First Time I Got Up Early
The first time I got up early,
and put my work boots on
and knew that they meant work,
I was nineteen, freshly dropped out of college,
and I came downstairs to join my father
in the kitchen.
He'd lost his larynx the year before,
had learned to belch out words without a voice box.
He stood there in his white Stone Products uniform,
and I stood there in my work boots,
and he just cried. His stoma, the hole
they leave you with when they cut a larynx out,
filled up with mucus. He had to dab it with a tissue.
He said nothing, but pulled two soft bills from his wallet
and handed them to me.
Later, when I came home, machine grease in my pores,
stinking of coolant mist and sweat,
he offered me a beer. "Here kid," he belched --
my father, fifty-five years old, reduced
from Grade A machinist to janitor, they guy who cleaned the toilets
cancered, and canceled. He said, "Work is work . . .
only the bosses get to call it a career."
We sat for an hour on the porch, letting the tiredness drink
us, the warm night touch us with its fur. He said, "I'm sorry."
I said, "What are you sorry for?" He didn't answer,
just opened another beer. I wanted to kiss him, but I didn't.
There were these blanks between us, a beautiful
and hopeless as the sky. There were these blanks.
And what could we have filled them with?
Later, when he was too drunk to walk, I helped him
up the stairs.
took his work shoes off, cleaned the snot from his throat hole,
covered him with a blanket. This was love. I meant it,
silent, and knowing it could kill me. I took my time.
Coney Island Dialectic
He said he wanted to be like his dad, work with his hands,
but he answered wrong: they said he had to do better --
each generation surpasses the last. That's American.
Their Sunday stroll along the Boardwalk had been unplanned,
and his aunt, the smart one, approached him a go-getter,
but he told her he loved how his dad worked with his hands,
so he cried, What's wrong with construction? He demanded,
I want to build things! Dad's a carpenter and he can plaster
and he makes things that last, like a real American!
They shook their heads in silence and stared out at the sands,
Such a bright kid, but he talks in a language of failure
to insist in following his dad and work with his hands.
So they all shouted, You go to school to become a man
who does something good! You become a doctor, a lawyer,
who generates big income -- like true Americans.
He did not say a word; he did not understand
why a son turns his back on the work of his father.
He simply wanted to follow his dad and work with his hands,
work that lasts for generations: forever American.
Burn Bright (after Elana Bell)
This is for Simba, who should never give up hope,
whose will and determination course
through veins -- started burning
in her head and heart -- pumping
through her body. And when I say
body, I mean the human body --
whose legs sing on concrete --
slaves giving up all for their nation.
Freed from the womb
on any day of the week and bred
to work for a greater purpose -- to join
a greater body. And when I say
body, I mean the student body --
who is driven with aggression --
whose hands ache from turning pages
and writing essays for examination.
And there is Simba. Caught between bodies --
struggling to exist in both worlds
and being pulled apart.
I am writing this poem because I understand
the demand placed on you,
a young person attempting to find your way
in a society shrouded in materialism -- being valued
for what you have. I see you
like I see the Sun --
rays of bleeding desire,
ready to feed. You will make it.
I am as sure of this as I am sure
that Sol will shine
on this rock tomorrow.
And when I say this rock,
I mean your home.
And when I say home,
I mean your heart.
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For Next Year's Contest
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