The Letting Go
Little by little
It starts. In Siberia,
I see a reflection—
Myself standing still
In the afternoon shadow
Of ancient Russia.
I know now what
I have never realized
Before. I am alone
In darkness— a shade
Of myself here
On another cold
So many miles away
And even furtherFrom myself. Still,
I find songs in this
Old world, as I gather
My ragged spirit in mid-
May and struggle
To dance away from what is
Hidden in snow beyond
This here and now.
How could I have ever known
Before that it would take me
Down old cobble stone streets
In ancient Munich? Where
In this place, old spirits
Were raised. I was Bavarian,
A one hundred years ago. Somehow
There is life embedded here in the
Mortar between these bricks. I keep
Looking back for that one small piece
Of stone that is the future.
Dachau Death Morning Blues
"First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out" —Pastor Martin Niemöller
Death came along side me and brought
Me through the workers' gate.
Inside the camp, a lonely woman's shadow
Follows me, whispering into my deaf ear
All the horrors still burning
In the forest of the German night.
Between the turning gears,
A human factory of skin
Pulled tight over the heavy pounding
Of pain and steel. I meet people
Who speak across this barren
Cold, November yard.
They whisper to my heart,
"Please-do not let them forget
Our hungry spirits. Don't forget
Us here in your fading memories
Of democracy and peace!"
Weeping at the Tomb
When age surrenders the body,
When the spirit leaves to become
Someone else's memories—
You find the changing seasons:
A brother's forgotten birthday,
Your mother's marriage, a grandmother's
anniversary, all this now a deep ocean
sinking in someone else's heart.
Your messages from the past remain
Lost at the post office like yesterday's
Black & white photographs or old postcards
Lying for years in the mildewed bottom
Of your uncle's old cigar box.
All is memory blowing across
The once blonde hairs of your
Youthful arm. Tomorrow is a ghost
Waiting for you to sit alone
Under a blue moon that willing
Hangs, again, over old Jerusalem.
You contemplate the place
Where they washed the body
Of Christ with rose water and perfume
Outside His tomb where a church
Now stands. You weep
For time and
You kneel in faith.
Making It Right
(Lines Composed After Being Asked to Lecture on Labor in Detroit During the Depression at the Amerika Haus Lecture Series in Munich, Germany, 2004)
"You know what work is—if you're old enough to read this you know what work is, although you may not do it. Forget you." —Philip Levine
I bring no poetry today
From the oil and grease
Soul of my Detroit.
This history I am is
Only, and nothing more,
Than the son of an auto worker.
Just another Detroit man beaten
Down by the tortured years
Of Depression, World Wars
And the awful angst of unemployment.
This is my story without balance
Weighing heavier on the side
Of heartache and less on the side
Of the sacred and glorious.
This is my story of what no work is
And what it can do to the
Working class in the darkness
Of our desperation.
I wish, now, I did have some
Kind of a poem to say aloud,
Right here—to make you
All understand what is inside
The blackened heart and under
The whittled bones of the people
Who have been left behind
In the ashes of the plant. I guess
I could read you a poem about how labor
Takes a boy and makes him a worker
Before he is allowed to become a man.
How the factory humiliates
And intimidates all people
With endless assembly and useless work.
How the line takes one ounce
Of every soul lived for every
Minute it is sped up to completion.
How Henry Ford's great innovation
Doomed generations to continuous
Monotony in the name of "making a living."
But, I am afraid that I can only bring
The small news of what becomes of people
Who work hard with greasy hands.
About people who learn that their reality is
Having their names spelled out in factory
Smoke long before they were born. A birthright
For workers to endure through
The long loneliness of industry
And unemployment lines where
We wait and wait for our
Bread and roses to fall from the sky
Like beads of perspiration upon our graves.
We dream that, maybe, prosperity
Is really just around the corner. So we
get up every morning with hope, and
We return each night to the broken houses
Of our lives, seldom realizing that it is our
Labor that keeps this whole world together.
I guess, in the end, we do not know
What work is, but still we continue to
Do it over and over, making it right.