Photo: "Affection" © 2006 by Rochelle Ratner
Poetry guest edited by Sharon Olinka
with Photos by Rochelle Ratner
Click names below to poets' poems & bio.notes, or scroll down.
RICH and POOR: Feature, 2006-07
A Stool We All Can Share by Fred Voss
steps over from his machine to take
the steel stool
in front of my machine in both his hands
and carry it over to his machine.
All day as I shovel brass parts in and out
of vises cutting them on my machine
I have sat on that stool
my feet and legs that grow so tired
and aching on this hard concrete floor
and Antonio knows this
and if I were back in my former
machine shop with all those white machinists
from white Republican Orange County
I would assume
he had stolen it to sit on and scream
at him about giving me back my fucking stool
like I was ready to fight or shoot him
in this downtown L.A. shop full of men
from Mexico and Guatemala and El Salvador
who have had to put their heads down
and humble themselves with next to nothing
all their lives
is just a piece of steel anyone can share
and I wait
with my head down standing on that hard
concrete floor for 5 minutes
aching to the bone until I see that Antonio
has taken it to stack
a pan of parts on it for a few minutes
so he can go find a cart
to put the pan of parts on
and he brings
the stool back to me
and carefully places it exactly where it was
in front of my machine because
he knows and I am learning
that no stool
on this earth will ever begin
to be worth as much
Fred Voss, a machinist for over 20 years, is the author of Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls and Goodstone, both published by Bloodaxe Books. Love Birds, a collaboration with his poet wife Joan Jobe Smith, won the 1996 Chiron Prize. He lives in Long Beach, California, and works at a nearby factory.
On a Playground in Park Slope, Brooklyn, a Retired Neurologist from Beijing is Cursing a Henan Girl
by Wanda Ping
“Sit still, you little pumpkin shit face.
Stop fidgeting. And stop
whining about your sore feet.
If your mother hadn’t left you outside
a shoe factory, dumping you like bad luck,
you’d be digging mud and collecting cow dung
in some godforsaken place.
You’d be lucky to have some corn gruel
to fill your stomach, some rags
to cover your ass. And God bless
if your father agreed to send you
to school for two years, just enough
to get a job sewing buttons embroidering
napkins tablecloths at some Chinese American joint.
You’d be lucky to marry a peasant from another village,
to have a kid within the quota.
If it were a boy, you’d be pampered.
If a girl, you’d be cursed and beaten.
Or if you were pretty, which you’re not,
you’d sell your flesh at hotels, bus stations,
become some rich man’s mistress.
If you were intelligent, which I doubt,
you might get into a college,
suck up to your professors for a better grade,
always nodding, smiling
even if you didn’t understand or agree.
But this is how fate laughs in our faces.
You, a little nothingness, live in a brownstone
in this filthy rich neighborhood, and I,
a venerable doctor and professor,
wait on you from 7:00 to 9:00,
14 hours a day, six days a week, for minimum wage.
You pick at your food like a spoiled princess.
Your Gap outfit and Elefanten shoes
cost more than my daily salary –
all because you call some white-skinned
lawyers Papa and Mama, who hardly see you
except on Sundays, who want you
to speak English without an accent and hopefully
pick up a few Chinese words from your nanny.
Listen carefully, you little hoof.
A whore is always a whore, just
like a dog will never grow ivory from its jaw.
Born in a peasant’s sty, you’ll always smell
of mud and straw fermented in piss, your eyes
the cutting wind from the Yellow Plateau,
your feet thick, thighs bulging with muscles,
hips wide for labor, sex, birth,
even though at three and a half you still look
like a two year old, still wobble
when you stand or walk, the back of your head
flat like the bottom of a pan from the orphanage crib.
Believe me, I’m a doctor, I know.
Once a peasant, forever a peasant,
just as a Chinese remains a Chinese
wherever she goes, even in her grave.
Why are you crying, you little oily mouth?
You’re not supposed to understand a word.
Two years in America should have wiped out your past,
erased every memory. But who am I kidding?
A night alone on the cement steps of a factory,
a year spent in an orphanage. They say
the trauma has stunted your growth hormones.
But who hasn’t gone through a few things in this life?
I’ve survived two prisons, three labor camps,
the Cultural Revolution, and now this plight
at age 60, to become a maid for an outcast
to support my good-for-nothing son and his family.
And I’m still standing tall, defiant.
So Lili, my silly pumpkin face,
wipe your nose and walk.
Time to practice again.
You’re stubborn, and proud. Good!
Don’t ever let your parent’s frown seal your lips.
Don’t let their butter and steak mush your brain.
You’re Chinese, a Chinese peasant girl.
Now take your steps.
It’s all right to stumble. to fall.
Here’s my hand.
I’m your countrywoman.
I am your Mother.
Wang Ping is the author of six books, the most recent being The Magic Whip (Coffee House Press, 2003.) She has received fellowships from the NEA, among other awards, and is an assistant professor at Macalester College in Minnesota. Her book Aching for
Beauty: Footbinding in China, was published by Random House in 2002. “On a Playground…” was previously published in Butcher Block, Vol. 1.
Sister Mary, Looting for Jesus
Excerpt from Down So Far Even the Devil Won’t Stay
by Claudia Williams
It’s strange and remarkable how so many of the 20,000 souls in the New Orleans Convention Center found ways to help each other. I witnessed countless gestures of beauty and decency. Whole communities were created. People found themselves crazy with yearning for things. A popsicle, a beer, a mattress. Some enterprising folks found ways to procure them. What difference did it make? A mattress, on the hot concrete in the New Orleans summer sun and humidity. A warm beer. Nothing. No one is thinking clearly. Shock and trauma and dehydration will do that.
Who needs what tonight? Calls went out the whole length of the building. Then groups went out to “loot” packets of sugar for those deprived of insulin. Children’s Tylenol. Yes, such a need for that, too many little ones with fevers. Those who went risked being shot at by National Guardsmen, who were menacingly positioned atop buildings around the area. The lucky ones returned with soda. A crushed box of Band Aids. And the Children’s Tylenol…which had to be shared, metered out. Nothing wasted.
A tiny black lady called herself “Sister Mary Looting for Jesus.” Very late at night she would go off by herself to “find” certain things. She refused any help. It was something she had to do alone. She was very frail. One night she found a deli style brick of cheddar cheese. She cut it into sections, gave it to those who needed it the most. I wanted to help, but again she refused. This was her personal connection to God, to do it alone. Her way of honoring Him.
I saw black men at the Convention Center who would do anything to protect their children.
I saw people with heavy blue latex gloves announce they would soon go by with cartloads of the dead. Don’t let the children see, they said.
I saw a man who drowned in a pool of water from a malfunctioning air conditioner.
It was the face of the governor, or the president, I had not seen once.
Claudia Williams, with her husband and a few friends, was forcibly evicted from the French Quarter on August 31, 2005 after Hurricane Katrina, and taken to the New Orleans Convention Center. They were evacuated four days later. She owns Starling Magickal Books and Crafts in New Orleans.
American Sonnet (6) by Wanda Coleman
portfolio profligates of creative capitalism
proliferate – wage slave labor intensive
pack up all your crates and dough
here were go interest’s low
pro rata (whacked-out on assonance
middle management mendacity
(let Jesus do it on his lunch hour)
I hit forty before I got my first credit card
zed-zed/ the game of bird association
when one’s only credentials are the holes
in one’s tired bend-overs
what does fame do without money?
Wanda Coleman is known as “The L.A. Blueswoman.” She was the first C.O.L.A literary fellow for the city, 2003-2004, won the Lenore Marshall Prize for Bathwater Wine, published several books with Black Sparrow Press, including a novel called Mambo Hips & Make Believe, and has released CDS. A War of Eyes, by Coleman, is listed in 500 Great Books by Women: A Reader’s Guide (Penguin Books, 1994.)
Player Piano by Julie Kane
“Common as dirt, the TVs of their time,”
the used piano man in Boston sniffs
at my grandmother’s twenties player piano
as I itemize the house, executrix;
insulting the Kane family heirloom that
I thought would make us rich, its wood veneer
now as black as the rot on Irish potatoes
that brought all our sorry forbears here
to work in factories or drive a team,
on Saturdays to sing and get besotted
around the piano my grandmother bought,
its flap valves and leather bellows rotted,
but still, amazingly, in tune – one key
gone soundless as, at the appraisal, me.
The Ballad of Dan and Hazel
The phone rang here the other night
I knew I shouldn’t answer
They said Dan Hughes is almost dead
of colorectal cancer
They said I wouldn’t know him if I saw him
I knew him in the eighties, in his prime
He worked for Hazel Guggenheim
The black sheep of her family
Whose daddy put on evening clothes
to drown in the Titanic
Whose sister Peggy bought up Jackson Pollocks
While Hazel bought up Daniel in his prime
Now Daniel was a caterer
before he worked for Hazel
And he was homosexual
before their brief “engagement”
But we were all so hopeful in the eighties
when we were in our thirties, in our prime
Daniel totaled Hazel’s car
once when he’d been drinking
Borrowed it and smashed it up
Shit, it was a Lincoln
He was doing eighty in the eighties
The tree was doing zero at the time
One night Hazel threw him out
Dan went slightly crazy
Lay across the streetcar tracks
at Carrollton and Maple
Wound up getting handcuffed and arrested
instead of getting flattened like a dime
Hazel had her moments too
Slashed her face with lipstick
at the wake for Robert Stock
What did Robert’s kids think?
Robert never made it to the eighties
I knew him in the seventies, his prime
Yeats had Lady Gregory
I have Dan and Hazel
Yeats had Connolly and Pearse
I have this poor fable
Write about the cards that are dealt you
Just another way of cheating time
Julie Kane is an assistant professor at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Her most recent book, Rhythm & Booze, (University of Illinois Press, 2003) was a winner in the National Poetry Series. In 2002, she was a Fulbright Scholar in Lithuania.
The above poems: Copyright © 2006 by their authors. All rights, including electronic, are reserved by the authors and may not be used without permission..
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