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Thursday, September 29, 2016


by Thomas Piekarski

The south wall of Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry mural in the Detroit Institute of Arts. 

We are the workers who build the ships that police
vast oceans shared by squid, plankton and blue whales.
We’re workers autonomous in our uniforms swayed
by the motion of constellations gradual in their effect.
We’re black men without pensions to rely on gathered
in front of the convenience store with lottery tickets
tucked in our pockets. We’re scantily clad waitresses
sexy at Hooters serving deep fried appetizers for lunch.
In Chicago, Pensacola, Albuquerque and Minneapolis
we’re taxi drivers and plumbers rising and stretching
to get a jump on dawn, twisting out kinks in our backs.
We’re money-laundering Wall Street financial kingpins
whose losses that add to the national debt are reimbursed
by smug congressional scallywags. We’re the Mexicans
who labor in Salinas fields planting and picking crops
and go home to wives and kids existing mostly on beans.
We’re security personnel, and we demand you remove
your shoes, pass them through bomb detection scanners.
We change your oil down in the pits beneath engines,
and though our hands ache your car will run smoothly.
Is anything as tender as the steak cooked so invitingly
on a hot teppan grill by the immigrant Japanese chef?
Note the greeter at Walmart’s entrance slurring words
as he rolls his wheelchair back and forth, quite cheerful.
We’re doctors performing abortions, pharmacists bottling
way overpriced drugs by the millions for hypochondriacs.
We are the workers, stoic, captivated by random winds,
the workers who adore HBO, smart phones and burgers.
We’re the workers whose marrow is sucked out of bones
born from the infant canyons and ravines of our planet.
We’re dreams that left European killing fields and chose
our own nation. We’re Stephen Foster’s children, Mark
Twain’s alter ego, Lincoln’s ghost, Sitting Bull’s blood.
We live in cleverly constructed boxes near workplaces.
We dedicated workers are well trained to forget problems,
check our attitudes at the door, produce at top efficiency.
We thrive on hysterical rhetoric that stirs our nationalism.
When the day’s work’s done we retreat to our televisions.

Thomas Piekarski is a former editor of the California State Poetry Quarterly. His poetry and interviews have appeared widely in literary journals internationally, including Nimrod, Portland Review, Mandala Journal, Cream City Review, Poetry Salzburg, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Boston Poetry Magazine, and Poetry Quarterly. He has published a travel book, Best Choices In Northern California, and Time Lines, a book of poems.