The Blue Collar Review is a quarterly journal of poetry and prose published by Partisan Press. Our mission is to expand
and promote a progressive working class vision of culture that inspires us and that moves us forward
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Eighth day on the job,
the new hospital guard explains
after a senior fellow-guard
has asked her a question.
She points to a rectangular strip of tape
on the floor by her desk,
it is there to "invite" people
to stop, not hover over her seated form,
which has intimidated her,
some who do not understand
the concept of personal space,
or who choose to invade.
She says it has helped.
She is young, strong,
but I can imagine the uneasiness
when a stranger comes through
the door, agitated over a relative
or friend, demands immediate attention
and direction. Not everyone is thoughtful.
I glance at her, smile,
hope she understands
I am not one to fear,
that I acknowledge we come from
the same historic place,
an elderly white woman
and a young Black woman.
Dad took a job at the factory
when the print shop closed with no warning
He missed the print shop, but couldn't
be picky with a family to feed. The pay
was better, but he hated the factory --
loading cereal boxes for a revolving door
of dictators posing as supervisors.
Men of his generation did whatever
to survive -- 'round the clock hours,
on-call, no holidays off. Sleep deprivation.
First heart attack at age 55. But that
golden card --- his name for health insurance --
wiped out most of the bill. He went back to
work quicker than most, under strict
orders from the doc: no more than 40
hours a week. No overtime. When
he retired, those years of bone-crushing
labor closed down every last artery --
just like the print shop; no warning.
He hung on for a few years, until
even the golden card couldn't
make it right.
Now even the gray-haired greeters,
forced back to working for minimum wage
when their pensions were cut
or their health went south,
are being laid off,
automated out of a job.
As I walked into the Game Stop
to buy a gift for my grandson,
I heard, loud and clear, Welcome to Game Stop!
I responded, Thank you, before I realized
it was a recording cued by the automated door.
In the 50s and 60s, an automated future
promised more leisure for all.
On TV George Jetson zoomed around
in his animated hover car.
In school we foresaw an end
to our parents sweating for a living.
A life of ease lay ahead, shorter work weeks
But as automation gained ground
workers started exchanging one good job
for two lousy ones, while their missing pay
floated to the top.
There was supposed to be less work.
There were supposed to be hover cars
They make a ghost host of our mothers,
who should be the wash of a smooth river,
the touch of rain. They discard
our fathers amid the acrid scent
of the roofing company, these
marketing sharks, these snicker slickers,
at first clang of the closing bell.
To break you free of wisdom, get you
to pay, they praise the daze, amp the haze
and the mordant phrase, erase respect.
Oh, they're cold, these put-down clowns
who salt your tank, oil your clothes,
drive any wedge to give them an edge
in selling beaches, add-ons, glad pills,
mad water, fad peaches. They call
prudence the can't cant. They admit
of no want money won't relieve,
know no reason, nor season, to grieve.
The Chicken Across the Road
It's not easy sticking your head up the vent of Big Chicken,
but it can be done.
You won't need to breathe through your mouth until the
If you are visiting their wastewater plant, where they press sludge
into solids, you might cut to mouth intake a half-mile away.
On the inside it is beautiful.
Solids go to the feed mill.
Oil goes to the rations.
It all gets fed back to the chickens.
So perfectly complete.
When they compost the sludge, they call it "inert dirt"
which they feed back to the chickens too.
None of these ideas originated with the birds.
The stainless shackles from which they are hung
the trough of water flowing with electric current
where they are electrocuted
the ice water that the workers stand in,
cutting, always cutting, until their wrists give way.
I'll admit that corporate chicken lacks character,
but they make up for that with glycerine combined with
ground up beaks and feet, which blend together in the
right "mouth feel."
This is Big Chicken we are talking about.
I don't mean Chatham County racing chickens
like the ones they sell at the market.
Those birds do Pilates before slaughter
I'm talking about the nugget. Or the tender. Or the finger.
I'm talking about that chicken that has been stripped
of its chicken essence and served up hot
through the drive through window.
That chicken where the initial bite
starts with the assertive taste of bygone salmonella,
and the chewing is as easy as summertime.
When each bite has a faint antibiotic finish
and where the growth hormone peeks through
the tallow sprayed coating on the back of the pallet.
The Meaning of Xenia
I was a stranger on the streets alone
In a little friendly Ohio town
Thick with the sickening smell of exhaust fumes
In the rush hour of old rusty clunkers
As those lucky enough to still have jobs
Hurried to work on their morning commute . . .
In desolate Xenia, plain-spoken folks
Panhandling, hungry, just getting by
Begged for a fast-food fix of extra fries,
But all I could think of to do or say
Was sorry, friend, for this bit of loose change
And the minimum wage you should have been paid. . .
Memories of the Great Dust Bowl Depression
Whistle over fields of dry cornstalks
Where the flim-flam of second mortgages
And the fine print of high-interest loans
Used by the filthy rich to fool the middle class
Still hanging on by the skin of their teeth . . .
In the neon greasy spoon of GMO tomorrows
The only businesses left in town are chain stores
Shuddered & boarded-up. empty strip malls,
Pawn shops, pay-day loan-sharks & gravestone markers;
The Last National Bank closed its doors for good
And a For Sale sign went up at the local church . . .
True believers in the pickpocket metropolis
Of the armed-to-the-teeth American Dream
Concocted by cut-throats & snake-oil salesman
Watch instant replays on the flat-screen TV
In the empty sports bar at the Holiday Inn
Where the breakfast headlines are served up cold . . .
A minimum wage
for food workers won,
and the struggle continues
to organize the unorganized.
It is not the revolution,
but it is not a setback either.
rallies and picket lines
you have won
an important reform
in a difficult time.
It is a breathing space,
it is a breathing space.
The banks and corporations
are still in place
with all their power
to exploit and conquer.
You are not the first
to have done this dance;
other fighters came
Others will come after
in their own burning time.
It is a breathing space,
It is a breathing space.
Now you must make use of it.
The bosses certainly will,
with their cops and courts.
and paid-for politicians.
It is a struggle
that makes a greater struggle
Call things by their right names.
Working Class. The bosses' class.
A rule by capital that survives
by divide and conquer.
Unite the many
against the few.
Build the left wing
of the possible.
Whatever you do
don't call a war peace
or paint a system white.
If you need to compromise
explain to workers
It is a breathing space,
a breathing space,
built in a day,
Honor the dead,
fight like hell for the living.
Whatever stage confronts you,
tell the truth to people
about the struggle,
it makes it
that much harder
for the next generation.
Rain fell straight in little drips quickly filling ditches next
to country roads
Both asphalt and gravel roads soaked
Falling fast without wind or any. breeze breathing
The air became a curtain of rain all around
Soaking the grass, grassroots and the ground
Our world waits on rain hard enough
To wash away the pestilence, plague and poverty
But waiting never works
Change comes from the work of human hands together.
The First Step
the Plane Ride the Bus Ride the Car Ride
Trafficking in women across state lines
is called white slavery except when the state does it
Then its called states rights
The right to have bad schools on a local level
is called states rights
because too much control on a national level
(LIKE WE HAVE NOW)
is communism. Like we have now?
Somehow I didn't think
We had communism now. . .
Just as bringing poor babies
into life -- via state medical CARE
is communism so
somehow it is hard for me to believe
we have communism now.
IS KILLING THEM LATER CAPITALISM?
Though I watch the old man gesture
The old man with the pork-barrel mind
Though I watch him gesticulate, punch The air
He says he is fighting for your rights
I have realized
I am his target I am the woman
He is trying to push
across state lines on his sword -- Not my baby daughter
I could have worked later for that
But he is trying to fuck me over his huge
missile sized sword
A woman steps into a bus
A woman steps into nowhere
A woman steps into her own blood
A woman steps into uncharted
unregulated medical territory alone
A woman steps into the past
into the UN-TIED STATES
Her money "ain't worth a continental" --
She is alone She steps out
into a foreign land stumbles
not knowing her way from corner to cormer
the sidewalk is a rug they are pulling
out from under her --
She realizes they would impede even
her step to the foreign clinic in New York
Next week they will force her to go to Honduras
Belgrade Taiwan she doesn't know where
She realizes they will stop at nothing
She realizes that they have control
of those places too
She realizes that she is theirs
and not her own --
A man is waiting for her on the corner
watching her walk away.
He is not THE MAN
but in some sense passing or committed
The man on the corner
is waiting for her death he is afraid She is afraid
as I am afraid
We should all be afraid --
If our grandmothers walked in their own blood
History tells us Technology tells us
the technology that is used against women, humans
Our granddaughters will not be so lucky as to swim
in their own blood.
There will be no blood left
Not even as toxic waste --
How sweet blood is when you kiss the cut
on your finger . . .
Slavery is noble only in hindsight.
No giant strides from Africa
beside our ship to save us as
None strode beside the ship
of those other slaves.
Something stood in THEM –
though they laid in chains in rows.
Something stood in the smoke
at Auschwitz. (kneel)
But I want to step off the plane
in Hawaii for a vacation
not an abortion --
They think they are big as Gods
They say THEIR GOD is even bigger!
They say they are just taking orders
Well I do not take orders well!
I can't be moved from
state to state like a chess piece
I can't be moved OUT
of your mind you Legis-la-tors
I can't be moved out of this
wonderful female body
-- I can't be moved --
We shall not We shall not be moved
We shall not We shall not be moved
and we shall move
With new genius
We shall move!
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