Friday, December 4, 2015

Two Poems by Fred Voss




Shadows We Will Never Escape

All day as we work
we stare
out the rolled-open tin door at the 50-story downtown L.A. WELLS FARGO
and BANK OF AMERICA and CITICORP 
buildings gleaming
in the sun with all their wealth and power 
trying
to keep our children fed 
trying to keep from losing hope 
and throwing in the towel 
on our low wages 
riding buses 
bicycles 
thin
with hangovers making us teeter and hold our stomachs 
over pitted concrete floors 
and stumps instead of fingers 
we go without glasses and teeth and hope of anything 
but poverty 
in old age we 
stick our chests out and throw around 100-pound vises and try not
to get strung out on drugs 
or pick up guns and go crazy as we work 
in the shadows 
of those buildings 
so close
with so much wealth and power we stare 
out at those towering shining buildings 
from the shadows on the concrete floor 
of our factory
until we truly begin to know what it feels like 
to be buried alive.  


Broken Tooth and Shoelace and Dream

At break I read in the paper of democracy.
I look across this machine shop where men
sweat and wipe grease off their arms all day
toward the owner in his office
the owner
who will not give us one dime's worth of a raise
or a bonus
who can fire us
whenever he decides to
our arms and shoulders and spirits aching and wearing out
fighting with these broken machines
he will not fix
our children
losing their teeth
what vote
will fix this what word
we might utter or shout in bar or street or marketplace
can make us feel better
though we may walk wherever we want in this city and say
whatever we feel like we still
must return
Monday morning to put on the steel-toed shoes
and the greasy work clothes and shove in the earplugs
and stand on the concrete floor
at the mercy of a man who holds our lives in the palm of his hand
a man
worth millions of dollars who keeps us so we cannot afford
shoelaces
as we sit on our stools at break and open our newspapers and
read about our wonderful
democracy.


Fred Voss has published three books of poetry: Goodstone, Bete Noire, Bloodaxe Books (UK), 1991; Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls, Bete Noire, Bloodaxe Books (UK), 1998; and Hammers and Hearts of the Gods, Bete Noire, Bloodaxe Books (UK), 2009. His poetry has been published in such periodicals as Wormwood Review, Atlanta Review, Pearl, 5 AM, Nerve Cowboy, Poetry Review (London), Ambit (London), The SHOp (Ireland) and others. His first novel is called Making America Strong.


1 comment:

  1. In 1964 I too stood in a filthy factory on a pitted concrete floor working in airless heat until the metal wall/door was partially opened to an even more intense heat and sun that exchanged one form of physical torment for another. The factory was an illegal one that tapped into electricity and showed no sign of ownership or title. We were paid in cash at the end of each day. We knew that one day we would show up when the factory inside the building would be stripped and gone. Yet the Chicago downtown skyline could be seen in the distance. I fully understood and lived "we go without glasses and teeth and hope of anything" and felt the throbbing despair of anticipation of even worse times. I, however, was fortunate to be between my freshman and sophomore year of college on a real scholarship that paid for my tuition and books. As I lived in my grandparents' attic for free, I had to pay for everything else such as socks, underwear, meals aside from supper, etc. Free lodging and free food once a day. A single pair of shoes with holes in the soles made for pain whether walking or standing. But... I knew I was fortunate because I knew I had a chance to escape. Hope. None of the other men of all ages had that sense of hope, but they worked on and on grasping at the unlikely possibility that their children might escape the cycle of ignorance, violence, alcohol and poverty. In 2015 America, that hope of a hope is gone.

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