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Thursday, January 27, 2022


by Bonnie Proudfoot

Members of United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) picket outside the BlackRock headquarters in New York City. Photo: Brendan McDermid/Reuters via New York Magazine, January 20, 2022.

Unionization efforts involving some of the most recognizable names in business have dominated headlines across the United States in recent months. Starbucks workers in Buffalo and Amazon employees in Bessemer, Ala., and on Staten Island have recently moved to unionize, as have workers at an REI store in Manhattan last week. Successful strikes at John Deere and Kellogg have drawn new attention to the state of the labor movement as well. —The New York Times, January 25, 2022

The first tool I ever bought was a hammer
at Western Auto in the Central Park Plaza,
in Buffalo, in 1974. I liked the feel of it,
not too light, not too heavy, oak handle,
a pretty grain. I liked the idea of having
a tool. I wanted to hang posters, to fix things,
a stuck window that needed a tap, a carpet runner
that curled on a stair tread. I liked how the metal head
went tink, tink, tonk as a nail sunk deeper 
into wood. It said power, power, power.
These days, the handle still fits my palm,
the wood has darkened, smooth as skin,
tough as bone, like the forearm of my grandfather,
a union man, steady and tanned, a guy
who’d drop everything to lend a hand
to anyone. When he died, I chose his scroll-saw
and drill, some chisels with steel blades that
I’ve used well and misused, too, by whacking them
instead of tapping, by going against the grain. Nothing
can fix everything, though sometimes I want to be a hammer,
to use extra force to make emphatic the connection
between mind and thing. Sometimes one hit
is not enough, I want to hear a chorus of power, power.
I want to be a chisel, too, a sharp one. A union
can be a hammer, a contract can be a nail,
collective bargaining, shared governance, chisels.
Ideas can be hammered on until they strengthen,
nailed down, or shaved and honed. Power, power.
I’m twenty years older than my Western Auto hammer.
I’m still learning what to try to fix, what tool to choose.
I know the task is the real teacher. When I look out
at this broken world, I still see my grandfather,
his steady arm, his sure aim, how right it sounds
when it all comes together, when it all works. 

Bonnie Proudfoot lives in Athens, Ohio. She has belonged to several unions in her life, most recently the Ohio Education Association. Her poetry and short stories have appeared in online and print journals, and her novel Goshen Road (Swallow Press, 2020) was Longlisted for the PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Fiction in 2021.