More "recession poetry" by Minnesotans

June 22, 2009

Ask My Dad: A Cake a Soap


sit good n

heavy in the

hand, like a

brick a banana

bread. This

Dove n Coast n

Ivory fluff's so

puffed full a

air a

bar is gone

in a week,

n sure,

it goes cheap,

it's true,

but keep in mind

who the poor

slobs are who

wind up

dishing out more

for this crap

in the long run,

n that's

just the way they

want it, too,

the dirty crooks.


Stolen Groceries: Blackduck, Minnesota 1985

Yes, it was unforgivable

to steal groceries out of the car

of the county commissioner's wife's car.

She looked like a nice lady,

tall, sturdy, wide-hipped,

a woman who could run a tractor

and weed a row of beans in a minute.

But we were running out of propane

to heat the trailer, the girls whining for

commodity cereal or potatoes from the

root cellar. It is cold in the northland

even in April, the muddy season

the month between winter and spring

when nothing grows and the winter supplies

are nearly gone. When I was young, we'd hunt

duck, pheasant, pea hen in those months,

but now you need a license, a freezer,

and a man who can shoot straight.

The commissioner's wife loaded

those brown bags filled with ground chuck,

bananas, and bread into her shiny car.

When she tucked into the post office,

I opened her back seat door, lifted

the heavy bags, and swiped the tissues

off the crocheted doily.

I was starting up my rusted truck when she

ran out, her eyes meeting mine for a slitted flash

as I cranked hard on the steering wheel, foot

to the floor, heading out of town.


The Family Business

Jackie's been here for twenty-five years and he tells me

you get used to it. He says your nose learns to seal itself

when you dive headfirst into an ocean of dust; your eyes

develop nictitating membranes to keep the chemical sprays out;

and your hands...

they will grow their own gloves,

invisible and tough

and permanent.

I've been a janitor for three weeks and I thought I was made of stronger materials.

We play chess in the break room. Jackie

asks me what my favorite piece is.

I say the pawn because, you know, he's the underdog;

the odds are against him. Jackie identifies

with the pawns too, but he, finds nobility

in their sacrifice, he sees beauty

in their simplicity,

in the fact that they're always



Jackie shambles from room to room, moving

half as fast as me but somehow getting twice as much done.

The night shift will mess with your head like that. Jackie smiles,

the saddest face I've ever seen. Sometimes I look at that face and feel

like we are the servants entombed alive with the pharaoh,

polishing someone else's gold while our oxygen runs out,

dutifully preparing a grand feast for a god

who will never be hungry.

But Jackie tells me that there is honor in this.

A good day's work.

An honest living. There is

poetry in this.

But what kind of poetry lives

in a can of orange naturalizer, the liquid

breath of dragons? The mist dissolves

every word creeping up my throat, overwhelms

every idea. They got me wiping my reflection from the glass,

scrubbing the shadows off the walls. They got me

so scared of my alarm clock that I can't fall asleep,

even when my muscles drain out from underneath

my fingernails and my thoughts stream out of my ears,

and I am left with nothing

but two eyes that refuse to close for fear

of what they might see.

Is there really honor in this?

Or is that abstract notion the carrot

they dangle in front of us pawns

to move us across the board?

But Jackie says you can't think about it like that. He says

that without us, the people who live and work in this building

couldn't function, that we keep the gears turning

and that it might not be glamorous

but it's necessary.

And maybe he's right. Maybe

I am just a working class kid who somehow hustled my way into college

and got delusions of grandeur. Maybe

now I'm "too good" to go into the family business:

a hundred generations of janitors

and farmers

and infantry

and factory workers

and pawns.

So I suck it up...

and last for two more months.

And on my final day before an uncertain future,

I make a point to shake Jackie's hand, and I say:

"I've been thinking man. I think

the reason pawns can't move backwards is because if they could,

they'd kill their own kings in a heartbeat.

"Instead, we are forced to keep moving, believing

we can get to the other side and become royalty ourselves,

but most likely dying on the way there,

sacrificed for a cause we don't even understand.

I wish you...

"I wish you the best, man.

I wish you horses

and castles."

Jackie smiles,

the saddest face I've ever seen,

and disappears into his work.


Clean Slate

There's something to be said for bankruptcy --

and confession -- the counting down to zero --

the exact Hail Marys -- the clean slate.

To rid oneself of all that's gotten in the way--

clearing the brush so the creek can be heard

as a litter of bells in the deep woods.

Just then the old habits gather around

smoky and lazy as a pile of cats.

Why change what's so familiar and purring?

A broom supplies its own satisfaction --

whispering across the wide-planked floors.

And the mail anticipates happiness each day--

promising a lower rate --a fresh start --

a pause at a quiet café in Thessolonia.

All the dust to be lost in the soft clapping of erasers.

Then --to arrive at the joy of clear water

in the heavy bucket-- the sopping sponge --

this broad stroke of black through all the old words.


bread for my daily

Give us this

Give us this day

Give us this day our daily bread

Scriptures read

Mouths to be fed

I feed the multitude with what I got

Words of truth I never stop

Mental food

Feed your mind and your body will follow

We know this

We harvest the seed

So take notice

Cash crops

Money will never make the world stop

I barter we borrow

Must be a better day tomorrow

Throw the bones

I wait for the oracles

Tree of life

What will the message

How do I survive this strive

I we sacred

Must be song must be music

Who will these branches reach

City is hot summer is closing in

Fellas they rock ladies are posing in

Days come and go again

Urban griots script quotes

Of a city in motion

Mother and child

Down crowded streets

What will their fortunes be

We -- visions of a liberated future

We -- of water and spirit

We --breath of divinity

Blessed be

And I thank god

For love friends family

Seeds of life

And bread for my daily