Here's one of my poems about the Depression and the Bradigan family's collective memory. West Chicago, Gary, downtown Toledo and Fort Wayne reminded me how little things change for the working class.
--- for men between the wars
Around to the back door they come,
as asked, for a boiled potato, an egg,
any little thing, putting a meal together
house by house the length of Pittston.
They used to be themselves, now
they’re a favorite uncle or a distant cousin
needing a shave, even wanting one.
We’ve got no advice to give
with the handout, and they’re thankful.
We see ourselves joining them.
Down the streets we go,
losing track as the sun shifts.
We head to the river for company,
grinding our way down clay chutes
till the knees beg off. Some of us fish,
some smoke. Here's the double quiet
we wanted, but we must listen
to a coal truck on the level,
straining behind a padlocked gate
while some guy jiggles the keys.
Everybody's got to live.
But when reports go around,
everybody's sister looks twice.
The more they look our way,
the less they see.
Honest men can’t do better.
And an honest man is always at war.
Peacetime, payback time.
One, two, many. Follow the bouncing ball
to the last note:
A man sweeps his hands under the weeds,
and there it is, a glove, even a coat
with a little life left for the taking. Grab it
and get lost.