Feb. 18, 2006

laid off

by Richard Vargas

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Poem: "laid off" by Richard Vargas from McLife: Selected Poems 1978-2004. © Main Street Rag Publishing. Reprinted with permission.

laid off

they hold their heads high
say they saw it coming
(they did) and knew
how to take it in stride
(they didn't)
all week whispered conversations
about unemployment benefits
and maybe going back to school
then the planning out loud for all to hear
about meeting at a local bar Friday after work
to get blasted and let it all hang out

if you were one of the lucky ones
you'll pass because after the 3rd round
weird looks will begin to come your way
the comic book bubbles over their
heads where you can read their thoughts
will say the same thing:
"why not him?"

then you'll blink an eye and see it
reflected back at you in their faces
the shotgun someone will clean tomorrow
and come Monday you're sitting at your
desk taking a phone call
whipping around to see what made
the loud metallic click behind you

you'll blink again
now you're back in the bar
Hank Williams is on the jukebox
they're all lifting their glasses
in your direction

you read someone's lips
as he/she says:
"watch out man,
you could be next."

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of novelist Toni Morrison, born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio (1931). She didn't start writing fiction until she was in her thirties, working as an editor for Random House and raising two children. She wasn't happy with her marriage and writing helped her escape her daily troubles. She joined a small writing group and one day she didn't have anything to bring to the group meeting, so she jotted down a story about a black girl who wants blue eyes. The story later became her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1969).

She continued to edit books for Random House after the publication of The Bluest Eye, but she was transferred from the textbook department to the trade department. She helped to get books by black authors published, including an autobiography by Muhammad Ali, and she wrote social commentary for mass-market publications.

Morrison's first big success was the 1977 novel Song of Solomon, about a rich black businessman who tries to hide his working-class background. It was the first novel by a black author to be chosen for the Book-of-the-Month Club since Richard Wright's Native Son in 1940.

But Morrison is probably best known for her novel Beloved (1987), about a former slave named Sethe, living just after the Civil War, who is haunted by the ghost of the baby daughter she killed in order to save the girl from a life of slavery. At first, Toni Morrison didn't want to write a novel about slavery. She figured the book would be among her least popular because it was too dark and too serious, and it was about a subject that most people wanted to forget ever happened. But Beloved was hailed as a masterpiece and it was one of the reasons Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. Her novel Love came out in 2005.

Toni Morrison wrote, "They straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places ... but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. ... All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place."

It's the birthday of poet and novelist Nikos Kazantzakis, born in Heraklion on the island of Crete, Greece (1886). He's best known for his novels Zorba the Greek (1946) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1955).

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1909). He wrote dozens of novels about the American West, including The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943) and Angle of Repose (1973).

It's the birthday of writer Sholem Aleichem, born Solomon Rabinowitz in Pereyaslav, Ukraine. He's known as the Mark Twain of Yiddish literature. He wrote five novels, many plays, and over 300 short stories.

He said, "Life is a dream for the wise, a game for the fool, a comedy for the rich, a tragedy for the poor."

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




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