Wednesday, April 28, 2004

TA Strike at UW-Madison, and all that

I have been inspired the past few days by the union negotations process and the TA strike here at the UW. Each day as I go through campus, dropping my wife off to study (but not work), I honk my horn in support of the strikers, and get that little worker's of the world unite tingle down my back. Then the following poem (link to it above) came across the Writer's Almanac for the Tuesday reading. Good stuff.

It's become increasingly clear to me that the church is called to support unions in their proper protests for worker rights. But I believe the church should start with itself, and I should start with me. Why do I accept higher pay than our janitor? On what grounds?

I've asked myself this question before, and have asked others as well, have gotten a variety of answers, but still remain dissatisfied. Anyway, here's the beginning of a thought, including sizzling steak...

Poem: "Calling him back from layoff," by Bob Hicock, from Insomnia Diary. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

Calling him back from layoff

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I'm OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that's a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones


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