Thursday, September 1, 2011

What poetry means to me

I wanted to write a poem about a man writing a poem but when I got around to it the man was no longer writing a poem. He was so busy making a living he'd forgotten all about poetry. I figured I had better make a living too, although I did not know what that meant. I mean I was already alive. What was there to make except poems?

I was callow and awkward but I survived. When I got hungry I always found something to eat. When I was cold and wet someone was always there to invite me inside. When I was thirsty, Sami let me take an old carton of milk or juice out of his refrigerator case. It wasn't stealing. He was being charitable. I could've gone on like that for a long time but a little voice in my head kept telling me that I wasn't making a living, I was just being alive. To be human, the voice said, is to be a maker. Go ahead, poot, nail some shite together and see if it stands.

I learned that making a living was really just making money, though you don't really make it, you earn it. Living by working, like an ox, like a mule. Got a room, got a bed. I loaded frozen food onto trucks in Secaucus, I sealed blacktop in Farmingdale. I separated compost into one-year and five-year heaps. A rich man's garbage. I stocked shelves in Westbury, I fed chickens in East Lansing. Mean peckers. I played the organ in Franklin Square, ghosted articles in Hoboken, gave lectures in Tokyo, sold books in New York, cut grass in Rutherford, directed a choir in Passaic Park. Sold blood when I had to. Pawned useless shite. Made do. Made doo. Sliced meat, mopped floors, brewed coffee, took out the effin trash. Making a living. Forty hours of sweat, some little Napoleon wearing a backwards baseball cap hands you a wad of twenties. Then you've got to give some back. Play the numbers, boys, if you want to eat next week.

Little Joe from Garfield would stare into his locker, shake his head, and say to me, "You're looking at a walking miracle, man." Juan from Union City was a miracle too. Ed from East Rutherford. Pat from Clifton. Bobby from East Meadow. George from New Berlin. Terry from Bellerose. Mikey from Washington Heights. Everybody I ever worked with was a miracle. They had managed to stay human in a system that tried to turn them into beasts. Henry from Hollywood. Bob from Florida. Al from god knows where. He showed up when he was supposed to and put his shoulder to the wheel. At the end of the day he split. Leroy from Baltimore. Ephraim from the Bronx. Tony from Co-op City. A regular parade. I see them now shuffling onward, bone-tired, smoking, talking about the Giants, talking about pussy. Making a living. Eating cold pot roast on store-bought bread. Farting for fun. Picking their teeth with a penknife. There was no camaraderie, no politics, no romance. An awareness perhaps that those things existed.

I survived and got a job in the knowledge industry [sic]. I've had enough of this, I thought. Maybe I ought to write a poem about a man making a living if I ever get around to it. Or before they lay the old boy in the ground.

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