Aug. 17, 2005

No Work Poem #1

by Virgil Suarez

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Poem: "No Work Poem #1" by Virgil Suarez, from 90 miles: Selected and New Poems. © University of Pittsburgh Press. Reprinted with permission.

No Work Poem #1

what hurt my father most after his accident
where one bad turn to the water fountain
nearly cost him his life, a forklift dropped
a pallet of 526 pounds of compressed card—
board on him and crushed him like a bug,
was how the company told all of his work friends
that because my father had gotten a lawyer
they couldn't talk to my father anymore,
that it was policy that no one come in close
contact with him as though he had malaria
or some other contagious disease. My father
was depressed by this, a man who shared hard
work with other men, and they were his friends,
and his true friends came by anyway to share
stories of what went on at work, and this helped
rehabilitate my father, slowly, and I saw it
in his eyes when his best friend, Manzano,
told my father how many fewer boxes of coffee
they packed without him, that my father,
el campeon, still held the record—I didn't
understand this kind of work-talk,
but I saw how my father when he thought
he was alone would raise his hands and look
at them in the light, as though they were gifts,
and they were; with his hands he worked,
hard, with his hands, he beat the clock,
with his hands he provided for his family,
and proud, he looked at them, the way his
thin fingers now moved; with his hands
he clawed at life, what is given, what is taken.

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Jonathan Franzen, born in Western Springs, Illinois (1959). He spent years working on his third novel. After five years he had written hundreds of pages, but he still didn't know what the book was about. He drew a giant diagram, graphing out the events, themes, and characters. He finally decided to throw everything away except for one chapter and started over. He wrote the rest of the book in less than a year. The Corrections evenetually was published in 2001. It's about a mother who wants all of her adult children to come to her house for one last Christmas before their father dies. It was a huge success.

It was on this day in 1998 that President Bill Clinton became the first sitting president in American history forced to testify in a criminal case investigation of which he was the focus.

Other presidents before Clinton had testified before grand juries in the past, but they had always done so to give evidence against others. Thomas Jefferson testified against former Vice President Aaron Burr. Gerald Ford testified in a trial of a man who had tried to assassinate him. Jimmy Carter testified in the bribery trial of a financier named Robert Vesco. But Clinton was the first sitting president ever to be served a subpoena to testify in his own indictment.

Clinton's lawyers and legal advisors encouraged him not to testify, but Clinton decided to do it anyway. The questioning took place on this day in 1998 in the Map Room of the White House. Clinton answered questions for four hours. The proceedings were videotaped and broadcast via closed circuit television to the grand jury in the federal court house.

The videotape of the testimony was released to the media. When the testimony was broadcast, 20 million Americans saw Bill Clinton in a medium close-up. For four hours, the camera never zoomed in or pulled back or cut to a different angle. The questions came from disembodied off-camera voices. Bill Clinton occasionally used reading glasses to read prepared statements, and he sipped a Diet Coke throughout the proceedings. But instead of looking angry and evasive, most Americans were struck by just how humiliated he seemed.

Most Americans saw a man forced to answer embarrassing and intrusive questions about his private life. As the questions progressed, Clinton looked more and more uncomfortable. It was perhaps the most human image of a president Americans had ever seen. Instead of turning against him for evading those questions, most Americans sympathized with him for having to answer those questions. His approval ratings remained above 70 percent after the airing of his testimony, and even went higher in the following months.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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