The Whole Song: Selected Poems

The Whole Song: Selected Poems

by Vincent Ferrini, Kenneth Warren, Fred Whitehead

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University of Illinois Press
Publication date:
American Poetry Recovery Series
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 1.10(d)

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The Whole Song

Selected Poems

By VINCENT FERRINI, Kenneth A. Warren, Fred Whitehead


Copyright © 2004 Vincent Ferrini
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-252-09119-3



Shoe City

    The City

    15 years ago this city was the shoe hub of the world.
    160 factories hummed a song of joy.
    Jobs were so plentiful you tripped over them.
    And our families had happiness.
    Today the city is a graveyard of factories—
    Monumental tombstones accusing with broken eyes.
    A jungle of death pregnant with another life.
    And we shoeworkers
    Idly mushroom the union halls arguing.
    Skeptical of the future, we talk of the past:
    Of the crowded union meetings,
    The honest speeches inspiring guts to sacrifice,
    The monster demonstrations and the unbreakable strikes.
    6 months ago the last giant factory
    Said "Accept a 20% cut."
    The Union answered "NO!"
    The Boss grabbed his shop and settled out of the state
    Leaving 1700 families stranded.
    The Union caved in.
    At dawn busses and cars carry shoeworkers to far-away open shop towns.
    And we thousands remaining
    Huddled in tenements
    Starve in the shadows of dead factories.

    Jeffery Tallcott
    These eyesores are soft and lazy
    and wholly lacking in ambition.
    —Jonathan Ernew

    Each morning my wife guides me
    Through a black city to Union Street.
    I tune my old violin and my wife
    Returns home with the case.
    My tapping stick is my eyes.
    I play and sing to the people buzzing and bumping into me.
    I love my clay pipe.
    Every hour I shake my tin can to hear
    If we'll have enough to eat.
    It rains and I sing by a doorway.
    The look in my eyes begging is an unknown story.
    Mid-afternoon and the tinkle of one nickel.
    Dupont gave me
    The only hundred dollars I ever had
    When I lost my eyes mixing paints for him.
    My face pleading these many years is a sculptured torture.
    The hot sun is like my wife's love.
    My voice tires and I play a jig.
    The dust of the street fills the wrinkles in my cheeks.
    Why don't those other beggars die?
    They'll only queer my territory.
    Day after day I strain to hear a tinkle.
    All they see is blotches of blood on the face I shaved at
    And holes in my pants.
    Saturday music of dimes, pennies and nickels
    Dropping in my tin can
    Is the only happiness I know.     The snow and ice and whipping wind
    Freeze my feet, my fingers, and my voice
    And I am a corpse with a can on my chest.
    When the streets quiet and death
    Is punctured by the click of shoes
    And ripped by the swish of automobiles
    My wife comes to take me home.

    Peter Joyce

    Never wears a hat.
    Fishscaled with money,
    He talks to Christ
    Because he's scared of death.
    Taxis drive him to Mass at 6 o'clock each morning.
    Holy crucifixes,
    Beads and medals
    Protect his chest.
    Takes mumbo jumbo notes at football games
    He doesn't understand.
    And walks the streets praying for the next life.

    Tanney Bronson

    Everything his protean brain touches he breathes to life.
    Rooted in the revolution of 1776.
    Palms calloused by pick and shovel
    On the pulse of the people
    Are fists full of liberty.
    Poetry spills from his lips
    And his consciousness is a sleepless eye.
    When he imitates people your stomach knots with laughter.
    His criticisms cut the legs under you.
    Hammers the time as it happens into songs for workers' ears.
    Old clothes need him.
    His head is a faun's.
    Friend to square pegs in round holes.
    Honest as the sting of truth
    And suffers for it.
    In his house there is free speech.
    Wherever he is the air blossoms,
    Exciting you with a drama of stories,
    Unending jokes and anecdotes.
    His rooms are splashed with paintings.
    You are reborn when you hear him freeing music
    And around his fireplace you chew a bit of greatness.
    With him you become an explorer,
    The dormant universe electrified within you.
    His blood throbs with the untaught American past,
    Bringing it back to the people.

    Nora Omen

    A 10 cent wedding ring tied the nuptial knot.
    Their bed is the Welfare
    And their rooms rest on quicksand.
    Her hatchet nose defies all enemies
    And eyes spit fire,
    Blunt as a sledge blow on fingers.
    Organizes mothers on her street to strike for low rent,
    And committees to cut the price of milk and bread;
    They never knew how before and it works,
    And they love her for it.
    Visits them bringing gifts of leaflets and pamphlets with answers.
    She sails into offices of the Powers That Be
    And rocks the roof of their smugness.
    Get smart with her and your head's in pincers.
    Quickest time to get results is a straight line of attack.
    Persistent as a flood,
    Her words and manners punch you in the nose.
    Offers no excuse
    And changes her tactics.     Loses herself and evolves
    New ways of living.
    Loving this life fiercely for what it must become.

    William McCarthy

    Weaving the silk of his life in the cocoon of the Catholic Church
    Nothing troubled him.
    Then what the priests feared happened:
    Coiled in the net of thinking people
    The lightning of analysis pierced the fog of his brain
    With reverberations of pelting doubt
    And he became Columbus.
    Consumed leaflets, pamphlets and fireside chats
    And came back for more.
    Stopped going to church.
    Sailing in an uncharted ocean
    He pocketed pearls of thought.
    Saw why things happen as they do.
    Reserves fell one by one.
    He bubbled into a strange happiness
    And finally landed at the shores of the USSR.
    His soul having broken through the prison of his old life
    A new self throbs in his heart and he is afraid.
    His bridges are burned.
    In chrysalis
    His nights are a battle of fear, sweat and struggle
    In a torture of indecision.

    The Factories

    Sunsets splash blood in our broken eyes
    And the moon splinters.
    Dead, we are huge and ugly
    With derelict canyons between.
    Our floors empty as Sunday,
    Abandoned by the Bosses
    And a few abusing us.
    Our skeleton teeth locked on the sky.
    It is not our fault you starve
    Idle without purpose.
    Workers, resurrect us—
    Put life back into our hollow bodies!
    Let us breathe again
    And the word "fired" be a nightmare that died with the past
    And for the first time own your jobs!
    The Union to operate us for the good of the people
    And the profits divided among you
    To build a city of love!
    Fill us with the bubble of bustle:
    Your tools clicking a chorus of work
    Stitching leather into shoes for the feet of the people,
    Laughter splitting the air!
    Human voices warm with intimate happiness
    Exciting our veins and arteries and cold floors!
    We'll feel we are wanted!
    We'll drink your singing at the machines,
    Wait for your coming daily!
    And glow with the jagged electricity of seasonal picnics!
    We won't hurt you with accidents!
    No more speed-up torturing the nerves and the bottled anger!
    And no Bosses cracking the whip of low prices!
    Patch us up and air-condition our lungs!
    Shoes you make will be your own
    And you'll love them like works of beauty!
    And the reality of the 5 hour day!
    Invented machines ending drudgery
    And pouring leisure into your laps!
    And the wages will buy you your own homes!
    Your example will be a fuse leading to coffin cities and ghost towns,
    Igniting the people to possession—to free America!
    Think! Believe it!
    You've got nothing to lose but your poverty
    And the creative life that should be yours will begin!
    Time rots us and buries you.
    O workers, we are yours for the taking.
    For what are you waiting?

    Fluoroscope of Evening

    Telephone wires are secret
    The streets dry rivers

    A few old men support the corners
    And taverns have the look of deserted women

    The newsboy's voice is a lunatic
    screeching against the stars

    The ice-cream parlor has one light on
    The lampposts have bandages on their eyes

    No automobile horn calls for a girl
    Poolroom tables are half awake

    Those not out are sleeping for the
    next day's work

    Some windows tell you how it is
    You never noticed so many strangers before

    They have all gone but the memory
    The city is a ghost house with many corridors.

    Workshops in Labor

    Who what who what who what mmmmm what sings the boring mill
    Sput sput sput drrrrr the pneumatic drill
    Shattering nerves and losing clothes
    Swish wish swish ssss quick brush off of the air hose
    The hammers on steel ring Independence bells
    Mee ow mee ow mee ow
    Ah Ooooo Ah ooooo and the yells
    Of the workers' eyes caressing the girls
    zzzzzzz of the lathe shedding curls
    Thud thud thud of stock
    Sudden machine burst and the shock
    Telephones rattle persistent as babies bawling
    Steam pipes are express trains mauling
    Metal sheets clang
    Presses click and bang bang
    Sewers smoking
    Elevators croaking
    Fingers in motors drone
    And belts moan
    Boilers quaking ears
    Caskets of casings like biers
    Fog horn mooing for help
    And sprinkler showering the hollow of rubber kelp
    Gears are wailing women at a funeral
    Stab of the lunch whistles stall the tempo
    Immediately the grind wheels race on a dry track
    And machine guns crack
    At every minute
    The hum is a front at the rear and we're in it
    Signals exploding blood cells
    Electric saws in aluminum splitting atoms of the air
    Hornet buzz of coils and care
    Heels and mallets pound foundry soot soft as moonlight
    Coal smudges on bodies spoon bright
    Blue pain of the acetylene torch tearing the flesh.
    The hands whiz like flies in a mesh
    Castings thrown in basins like breaking bottles
    The blast of furnace throttles
    Ovens with hot angry tongues of the captured sun
    Zoom at goggles and sweat and everyone
    A perpetual feud or a grudge
    Like the rumpus after the sentence of a judge
    Sandpapers scratch the brain
    Jokes grow like grain bring thunder and hidden rain
    Workers are metronomes almost without breath
    And if machines stop the silence is death

    The City with Empty Closets

    The sidewalks are the ribs of a skeleton
    A new people are everywhere
    The shadow of the bridge lengthens
    And a crow stabs at the autumn twilight
    The Security Trust is a closed temple
    Movies gulp women
    A chill wind and the streets become alien
    The tide is full with the unknown future
    Dried blood of leaves are the nails of dogs running on concrete.
    The draft has picked the city clean as a chicken bone.

    Letter to My Brother

    The umbilical cord connects us both to Ma and America
    The front your bayonet sticks into is secret
    And what you suffer are pins in my imagination
    As my fingers sharpen the animus of superchargers.
    Like fanatics the others sweat the machines
    Silent with the same thoughts
    Or probably scarred.
    Weeks melt into months
    And the months are moving in the second year
    And for you too it is a long time
    Must we wait till their gun butts break down our doors
    Lindo there are enemies in our midst
    Their paws on the buttons of power
    With monkeywrenches in production and unity
    Plotting against you and the common people
    O let them beware the whirlwinds of our anger
    Lindo let hate be your science
    And spit at the gargoyles of danger
    Those who reach us with their eggs
    Like gnarled trees
    We'll thrust our hands into the sky
    And bash their pregnant bodies together
    For the weapons we send you
    And your bayonet
    Will anneal the People's Revolutions
    And you come back to a country where Ma and our kids won't ever go to the
    Welfare again.

    Forge Plant

    Insects with antlers
    And iron shoes
    Their eyes peer out of asbestos boxes
    Pushing 2 ton stock
    Red as sunrise
    Out of yellow volcanoes of furnaces
    To be cut and shaped by 9 ton electric hammers
    Black workers
    White workers
    Looking alike with dirt and oil
    And the women in amber rooms polishing cutting filing
    And the fussy jobs of grinders at the edge of the storm
    Look how they feed the hot metal into mighty intestines
    Pounding them into moulds
    In a shower of stars
    Kneading thunder
    And lightning and the strength and secrets of the universe!
    Like gods at the bins of forges
    Wetting the birdfeet with swab
    By the trigger thud thud thud thud
    O workers nothing is impossible for you
    Pounders of the tongues of ships
    The guts of holocaust!
    Unconscious O workers of your genius
    And now wielding your power and grasp like giants!
    Energies paid by War
    Why have you never worked like this in Peace time?

    Termites in the Floor

    They pick on him as if at the drying scab of a sore
    Monday morning they stick on his back
    I Am A Jerk
    They know he is sensitive as a cloud
    He doesn't agree with them
    Or talk their language
    On winter days open the window on his neck
    He is slight and his chest fertilizes pneumonia
    O if my father had trained me to use my fists
    Sweat beads his forehead
    And his heart churns hatred
    Someone stole a wrench from Joe's tool kit
    And the owner blames him
    If he broke someone's face
    They would respect him
    But he's not built that way
    One day they shoved him in a box and nailed the top on
    And his head boiled for weeks and is still seething
    If only his thoughts could become poisoned arrows
    Or his body a stick of dynamite
    He'd invite them to a feast and then light the powder,
    The Japanese attack California
    And his brother fights them on the Solomons,
    They gave him a week or two
    And then they paint the seat behind him.
    This never happened before
    Slowly his heart turns to ice
    His mouth has lost the strength for words
    And work is a bitter pill
    He swallows every day in order to live

    There are enemy agents here
    "Go on he can't take it."


Excerpted from The Whole Song by VINCENT FERRINI. Copyright © 2004 by Vincent Ferrini. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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