At the Bessemer Flea Market
The “New World” symphony a long time ago
in the hot quonset hut, my music home work.
The oboe query, the bassoon spooning out hope
to the horizon. Yes, I wanted more than smallness.
I got into that music and rode it, rode, it turned
into poetry, it turned into a plow, it turned over
everything, it furrowed right through me until I
came out here. Not someone whose family owns,
not someone who can say this land is mine.
Not Seamus deep in a peat bog of language.
Not Nazim, the other prisoners shouting words.
Just me and the Saturday afternoon multinational
working class looking for one-dollar bargains
in Bessemer, Alabama, where the big steel mills
closed a long time ago. Mexicanos sorting oiled
from rusted tools. A slender woman (Hmong? Viet
Namese?) selling sheets. An African-American man
meeting an old friend’s baby: I didn’t know who
I was looking at until I saw the eyes. Someone
with T-shirts spelling Black History, looking back,
the march of time up to Amani’s walking sticks.
He carves eyes into the handles so as to see the way
forward. He goes into thickets near his city home
to get the sapling wood. Pecan, hickory, red oak,
white oak. More than 40 percent Black men un-
employed. He used to be a carpenter, now he makes
jewelry, sculpture, music. He leaves things unfinished
to see what happens next. Pointing to copper wire,
he pliers and crimps into spirals, what could be an ear.
He tells me: Bring the stick back if it needs something.
If I have ears to hear, if I put my ear to the ground.
If I listen to the footsteps’ hark. The people walking
all around me here in Bessemer, Alabama.
For more on the “globalization” of Alabama, see Minnie Bruce Pratt,
“From Alabama to Colombia: Coal Company Faces War Crimes Charge”
Minnie Bruce Pratt is a white anti-racist, anti-imperialist activist, born in 1946, in Selma, Alabama. Her poetry as a lesbian mother, Crime Against Nature, was chosen for the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets, and recently re-issued by Sinister Wisdom/A Midsummer’s Night Press. Her most recent book is Inside the Money Machine, described by one reviewer as “anti-capitalist poetics in action.” She does organizing with the International Action Center, teaches at Syracuse University, and can be reached at www.mbpratt.org