Friday, November 15, 2013

Day 14 and 15: Sweatshops and Sweet Rivers

The last two days I haven't had a chance to post my poems.  So, I'll just combine my post to contain both.  The first poem was written from a prompt about how losing fingers was ordinary.  Since I'm teaching The Valley of the Moon to my classes right now, I'm immersed in trying to convey the world of the early twentieth century sweatshops.  This draft explores that idea:

Sweatshop, Oakland, 1911

That the loss of a few fingers was normal
wear and tear. That the eyes got used to
the lack of light.  That the skin paled,
became papery.  That the sun ripped
open the day. That the soot never washed
out from under fingernails. That the back
never straightened again.  That the fingers shook.
That the days lengthened after the earthquake. 
Stitched closer and closer together by nervous
bosses. That the cracks were never filled.  Grew wider. 
That the sun strained to enter the greasy windows
until night broke it. That the irons singed.
That the beams ached every time a train
 passed. That the girls looked up nervously to see
what others had done.  That girls fainted regularly.
That young girls of seven or eight were fastest.
That they secretly sang to each other under their breath.

The second poem was written from my experience of visiting Tolay Lake on a field trip with my son Max and his third grade class and beginning to read Charmian London's biography about Jack London called The Book of Jack London (Books 1 and 2).  Tolay Lake is no longer a lake, but it is a spectacular place where, if you hike into the hills, you can see all of the surrounding mountains (including Sonoma Mountain where Jack London lived). 

Sweet River of Feathers

From above Tolay lake you can see
the red marsh and Tule spread like
so many red feathers.  Then beyond,
the cool, shimmering wandering
of the river.   No lake.  Just a lake remembered.
A place where once so many came
to leave behind something.  To look out
and see the ring of mountains
that surround us.  Where can a lake
only made of feathers carry us
anywhere, but gently. 

This morning, I read Charmian’s account
of her first meeting with Jack. How
it wasn’t love at first sight.  His bowlegged walk,
his shabby clothes and wavy, unkempt hair.
But also grey eyes, lips that always seemed
poised to smile and a kinetic curiosity
that seemed to illuminate his whole face
as he spoke.  It would be years before
they would meet again.  And the place they met
would be gone, the Old San Francisco,
lost in the earthquake and fires.  But,
always she would look out from this place
as to where her life began again
as to where all the mountains ahead could be found.

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