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Two Poems by Joseph Kalar


Faces floating in a poolroom fog,
faces flowering out of collars
and shirts like greenhouse cabbages,
faces with eyes tired, eyes like pools
filmed over with fog, sad and vacant eyes
like bright coals burned to grey cinders.
Men sitting on poolroom chairs
staring at the floor with vacant eyes
blinking as the last billiard ball
rolls smooth as hell into the right pocket;
seeing and not seeing, seeing phlegm
glistening like jewels in the yellow light,
smoldering cigarette butts, gum wrappers,
cigaret packages; hearing sharp sudden click
of billiard balls, low loving entreaties
of players finding life concentrated in a cue.
Faces, now so unlovely and sad,
were you ever wise and resolute? 0 corpse faces,
pasty faces, dead faces, did your eyes
ever smoulder with creative hate?

Faces growing on that evil sour apple tree,
withered fruit of sour poisoned stalk,
sad harvest of work and looking for work,
harvest of mine, harvest of factory,
harvest of lumbercamp and sectiongang,
poolroom faces gazing at poolroom floor,
waiting, thinking maybe, wishing a little,
praying for strong men to plow the sour soil!


As piles of sand disintegrate when sucked
by the wet urgent tongue of the sea--
as one about to die finds life escaping
like rush of air from a punctured tire—
as a house gnawed by red teeth of flames
falls at last to ashes and ashes—
so now the land we love, comrade,
so now the dreams we dreamed,
so today and all the hours....

Hunger is with us.
Factory smoke is sour
with the memory of work
to be done
and a wild look in the eye:
no work today, buddy, no work....
Hunger is with us, it is a rodent
that chews flesh from us
that drops dung on our joys
that dogs our steps blackly
a shadow you can't outrun,
hunger is waiting,
hunger loves you,
hunger is with us, brother.
0 now the grease will surely
leave your fingernails
and cinders will surely
leave those eyes alone
for a wild look in the eye:
no work today, buddy, no work,
no, no work, no work, buddy,
the old system
can't squeeze out another job for you,
can't find a loaf of bread for you;
that for you, brother,
a fig for your pains,
a sneer for your love
and spittle on your dreams.

Nothing to lose anymore,
gone now the lies
the beautiful lies
the red white and blue lies,
nothing to lose anymore, comrade,
nothing to lose now but your chains.

This is a new day, brother,
come gird your loins with me,
spit on your hands—
(no more time for dreams)
a big job is waiting
hard work needs completion—
a big job is waiting
and is tired of waiting,
for men like you, brother,
who find Hunger a comrade
with a lean embrace—
and for you too, brother,
with smoke in your eyes
and grease on your nails
and a paycheck smaller and smaller
and hours that seem
never to end
and a boss that demands of your strength
till it seems to snap—
a big job for us today
a big job for us today
Nothing to lose anymore, comrade
nothing to lose but our chains.

Don't you remember the days
that left us rotting with sleep
and we lay as one etherized
thinking that dreams could last?
don't you remember the days
when that flag meant something
and the blood thrilled
to the red white and blue?
Listen, comrades, have you forgotten
the lies we embraced,
the lies that offered us dugs
full of milk
to soothe our anger
and embalm our wisdom?
Have you forgotten, comrade,
the finger of scorn we pointed
at comrades who shook us from sleep
and told us a big job was waiting
and sang the wonders
of the workers' fatherland?
Gone now, all gone, brother,
gone now the lies
the beautiful lies
the red white and blue lies—
nothing left us but this hunger
nothing left us but this hate
nothing left us but these hands
and a job that's tired of waiting....

Nothing to lose anymore, comrade,
nothing to lose but our chains!

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