[from] The Inheritance of Loss

by Kiran Desai

[Saeed Saeed, an undocumented Muslim from Zanzibar, manages the Queen of Tarts bakery, and helps other undocumenteds from India and Africa eke out a living in New York. He loves life.]  

Saeed Saeed caught a mouse at the Queen of Tarts, kicked it up with his shoe, dribbled it, tried to exchange it with Biju, who ran away, tossed it up, and as it came down, kicked it squeaking up again, laughing. 

“So it is you who has been eating the bread, eh, it is you eating the sugar?”  It went hysterically up until it came down dead.  Fun over.  Back to work.

Copyright © Kiran Desai, 2006

Two Tramps In Mud Time [Encore]

by Robert Frost

Out of the mud two strangers came
And caught me splitting wood in the yard,
And one of them put me off my aim
By hailing cheerily “Hit them hard!”
I knew pretty well why he had dropped behind
And let the other go on a way.
I knew pretty well what he had in mind:
He wanted to take my job for pay.

Good blocks of oak it was I split,
As large around as the chopping block;
And every piece I squarely hit
Fell splinterless as a cloven rock.
The blows that a life of self-control
Spares to strike for the common good,
That day, giving a loose my soul,
I spent on the unimportant wood.


The time when most I loved my task
The two must make me love it more
By coming with what they came to ask.
You’d think I never had felt before
The weight of an ax-head poised aloft,
The grip of earth on outspread feet,
The life of muscles rocking soft
And smooth and moist in vernal heat.

Out of the wood two hulking tramps
(From sleeping God knows where last night,
But not long since in the lumber camps).
They thought all chopping was theirs of right.
Men of the woods and lumberjacks,
They judged me by their appropriate tool.
Except as a fellow handled an ax
They had no way of knowing a fool.

Nothing on either side was said.
They knew they had but to stay their stay

And all their logic would fill my head:
As that I had no right to play
With what was another man’s work for gain.
My right might be love but theirs was need.
And where the two exist in twain
Theirs was the better right–agreed.

But yield who will to their separation,
My object in living is to unite
My avocation and my vocation
As my two eyes make one in sight.
Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes,
Is the deed ever really done
For Heaven and the future’s sakes.

Copyright © 1934 by Robert Frost

Self-Employed: For Harvey Shapiro [Encore Post]

from Against the Evidence: Selected Poems 1934-1994.

by David Ignatow

I stand and listen, head bowed,
to my inner complaint.
Persons passing by think
I am searching for a lost coin.
You’re fired, I yell inside
after an especially bad episode.
I’m letting you go without notice
or terminal pay. You just lost
another chance to make good.
But then I watch myself standing at the exit,
depressed and about to leave,
and wave myself back in wearily,
for who else could I get in my place
to do the job in dark, airless conditions?

copyright © 1993 by David Ignatow.

USPS Made In America, Building a Nation Stamps

Here is what the US Postal Service said about these stamps when it issued them in August of 2013:

“The contributions of America’s industrial-era workers are memorialized on a new sheet of Forever stamps titled Made in America: Building a Nation. The stamps, which feature black-and-white photographs of early 20th-century industrial workers, were dedicated at the Department of Labor today by Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe.
‘With Labor Day around the corner, the Postal Service is proud to honor the men and women who helped build this country with their own hands,’ Donahoe said. ‘They mined the coal that warmed our homes. They made the clothes we wore on our backs. Let each stamp serve as a small reminder of the dedication, work ethic, and sacrifices that make America great.’

Joining Donahoe at the ceremony was recently-appointed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Tom Perez, Secretary-Treasurer of the AFL-CIO Elizabeth Shuler, and other union leaders.
‘Stamps are like a miniature American portrait gallery,’ said Labor Secretary Perez. ‘They are an expression of our values and a connection to our past. That’s why it’s so fitting that that this series depicts Americans at work. These iconic images tell a powerful story about American economic strength and prosperity. These men and women and millions like them really did build a nation.’
The pane features 12 stamps, each showing a different man or woman hard at work. In the top row, from left to right, are an airplane maker; a derrick worker on the Empire State Building; a millinery apprentice; and a laborer on a hoisting ball at the Empire State Building.

In the middle row, from left to right, are a linotyper in a publishing house; a welder on the Empire State Building; a coal miner; and riveters on the Empire State Building.
In the bottom row, from left to right, are a powerhouse mechanic; a railroad track walker; a textile worker; and a crew member guiding a beam on the Empire State Building.
Eleven of the stamp images were taken by photographer Lewis Hine, who is famous for his work which helped tell the story of early 20th-century laborers.”
Lewis Hine himself once said: “There are two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected.  I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.”

He’s a Go Getter

He’s a go-getter, a go-getter\

When his wife gets off from work he’ll go get her.Now I’ve got a neighbor that lives down the road away
His wife holds down a steady job he don’t turn his hand all day
I know that most of you will know the kind I’m talking about
The kind that rather than have to work yeah he’d rather do without.But he’s a go-getter, a go-getter…
When his wife gets off from work he’ll go get her.— Instrumental —There’s a group of men in the courthouse yard anytime that you go by
Playin’ checkers and tradin’ knives and makin’ jokes about their wives
They’ll wait all week for payday and they hope that money’s plenty
And the wife that worked… But he’s a go-getter, a go-getter
When his wife gets off from work he’ll go get her.Yes he’s a go-getter, a go-getter
When his wife gets off from work he’ll go get her.He’s a go-getter, a go-getter
When his wife gets off from work he’ll go get her Songwriter: Dolly Parton

[from] The Bastard of Istanbul

by Elif Shafak

[Zeliha, a young and single Turkish woman, is at the gynecologist’s office for an abortion.  The receptionist subtly shames her, but the Doctor is solicitous, and a master at using his time well.]

The doctor was a burly man who communicated strength through his erect posture.  Unlike his receptionist, there was no judgment in his stare, no unwise questions on his tongue.  He seemed to welcome Zeliha in every way.  He made her sign some papers, and then more papers in case anything went wrong either during or after the procedure…

Harboring profound contempt for weepy women ever since she was a little girl, Zeliha had promised herself never to turn into one of this walking miseries who scattered tears and nitpicky complaints everywhere they went and of which there were far too many around her.  She had forbidden herself to cry.  To this day, she had on the whole managed pretty well to stick to her promise.  When and if tears welled up in her eyes, she simply held her breath and remembered her promise.  So on the first Friday of July she once again did what she had always done to stifle the tears. She took a deep breath and thrust her chin upward as an indication of strength.  This time, however, something went awfully wrong and the breath she had held came out as a sob.

The doctor did not look surprised.  He was used to it.  The women always cried.

“There, there,” he said, trying to console Zeliha while putting on a pair of medical gloves.  “It’s going to be all right, don’t you worry.  It’s only a slumber. You’ll sleep, you’ll dream, before you finish your dream, we’ll wake you up and you’ll go home.  After that, you’ll remember nothing.”…

The doctor patted her shoulder, handed her a tissue, and then handed her the whole box.  He always had a spare box of tissues ready by his desk.  Drug companies distributed these tissues boxes free of charge.  Along with pens and notebooks and other things that carried their company names, they made tissues for women patients who could not stop crying…

“Are you sure this is what you want?  Perhaps you would like to mull it over”, said the doctor in a velvety voice as if Zeliha was a pile of dust and he was afraid of brushing her away with the wind of his words if he spoke louder.  “If you’d like to reconsider this decision, it is not too late.”

But it was.  Zeliha knew it had to be done now, on this the first Friday of July.  Today or never.  “There is nothing to consider.  I cannot have her,” she heard herself blurt out. 

The Bastard of Istanbul, by Elif Shafak,  © 2007

Back from Vacation

by John Updike

“Back from vacation”, the barber announces,
or the postman, or the girl at the drugstore, now tan.
They are amazed to find the workaday world
still in place, their absence having slipped no cogs,
their customers having hardly missed them, and
there being so sparse an audience to tell of the wonders,
the pyramids they have seen, the silken warm seas,
the nighttimes of marimbas, the purchases achieved
in foreign languages, the beggars, the flies,
the hotel luxury, the grandeur of marble cities.
But at Customs the humdrum pressed its claims. 
Gray days clicked shut around them; the yoke still fit,
warm as if never shucked. The world is so small,
the evidence says, though their hearts cry, “Not so!”

Slavery Time

Elijah Pierce

carved wood mounted on cardboard.

Pierce was born in Baldwyn, Mississippi in 1892, to formerly enslaved parents. Slavery was one of the key themes in his artwork, as his father was sold at the age of four and would then be sold three times in his life. “He couldn’t stand all those years of whupping,” Pierce recalled in an interview. “My father said he didn’t feel free after the emancipation.” Pierce died in 1984.

Pierce’s work is currently on exhibit at the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia, through January of 2021.