Backstory of the Poem: Stephen Page’s “I Was a Soldier”

baa baa black sheep, two black sheep in a field, a mother and lamb

#329 Backstory of the Poem: Stephen Page’s “I Was a Soldier”:

Preview: Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?  I had been administrating/managing an eco-ranch/farm for several months, and working in and around fields of grass (which were free-grazed by cattle, sheep, horses, and chickens), fallow fields, fields kept free to grow wild, wood patches, ponds, streams, swamps, and a large salty river that bordered the land—all filled with indigenous flora and fauna—which, as a poet, gave me plenty to be inspired about.  This poem came to me and spilled out on paper through a pen in one complete draft during a day I had been working with the people—the employees, neighbors, and business partners—most all of who had different ethical values than people I had grown up around. These new people were horse thieves, cattle rustlers, malingerers, liars, contract manipulators, and behaved in manners that were less than honest. I had to learn very quickly the art of negotiation (arguing intelligently and fearlessly), and to supervise without appearing to micromanage or look like I was spying (unless it was over one of the bad guys), which sometimes made me feel guilty (for being a hard-a**), even though I was legally and morally in the right. This poem metaphorically reveals how I felt I (or better worded, how the main fictional character in the book felt) had behaved those first few months keeping the ranch profitable, free of bad guys, and eco-friendly.  The poem figuratively reflects a fictional character influencing the unethicals to act honestly, treat the animals mercifully—the old way of ranching was very cruel to animals, and keep the ranch/farm part wildlife refuge, part indigenous flora reserve, and free of harmful pesticides and herbicides.

*read the rest of the interview here: http://chrisricecooper.com/329-backstory-of-the-poem-stephen-pages-i-was-a-soldier/

When Stephen Page is not writing, reading, spending time with his spouse, communing with nature, or walking his dog, he is either accidentally on purpose losing his cell phone or making noise with his electric bass. He is part Apache, part Shawnee, part Mexican, part English, part Scottish, and part Irish. He wanders off a lot during social gatherings, showing up hours later at home.

CHRISTAL ANN RICE COOPER is a newspaper writer, feature stories writer, poet, fiction writer, photographer, and painter. She has a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice and completed all of her poetry and fiction workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry. She, her husband Wayne, sons Nicholas and Caleb, cats Nation and Alaska reside in the St. Louis area.

Finishing Line Press

Zombieland by Stephen Page

Spillwords present to all readers: Zombieland by Stephen Page

#MicroFiction #ShortStory #SpillWords

To all readers: This is a work of fiction. Any character, place, or thing (even a photo) that seems to resemble someone, somewhere, or something is coincidental. 

Escape 2 by Stephen Page

Stephen Page has a flash fiction published here: https://www.unlikelystories.org/content/escape-2

Thank you, Jonathan Penton

Follow Jonathan Penton on twitter: https://twitter.com/USdotorg

Happy Labor Day! Today I am Rereading “What Work Is” by Philip Levine

What Work Is
By Philip Levine
77 pages. Alfred A Knopf Books, $15.00.
Reviewed by Stephen Page

Philip Levine is the voice of the working class, the undereducated, What Work Isthe unambitious. He speaks for those who do not know how to speak for themselves or were never taught how to stand up for themselves. He gives voice to those who never thought to ask, “Is this what work is really all about?” He creates portraitures of laborers and brings them to life, allowing them to communicate to the reader, even if it is only through their actions. Levine, a master artist, after giving the subjects sound and movement, mutes them again, paints them back into their frames.

We are drawn into the first poem, a rendering of man wearing rubber protective gear and a respirator descending the steps into a pickling tank to work with a cocktail of hydrochloric acid and other caustic chemicals. The man knows of the dangers of his job, but continues to go down into the tank twice a day. At lunch he sits apart from the other workers in silence. He is proud that the other workers know him only by his nickname, and proud that his dangerous job gives him reputation and meaning in life.

The second poem, “Coming Close,” mootably the best of the collection, begins with the narrator pausing for a moment to scrutinize a fellow worker to whom he delivers parts:

Take this quiet woman, she has been
standing before a polishing wheel
for over three hours, and she lacks
over twenty minutes before she can take
a lunch break. Is this a woman?
Consider the arms as they press
the long brass tube against the buffer,
they are striated along the triceps,
the three heads of which clearly show.
Consider the fine dusting of dark down
above the upper lip, and the beads
of sweat that run from under the red
kerchief across the brow….
then lifting with a gasp, the first word
of tenderness between the two of you,
then you must bring new trays of dull,
unpolished tubes. You must feed her,
as they say in the language of the place.
Make no mistake, the place has a language,
and if by some luck the power were cut,
the wheel slowed to a stop…she would turn
to you and say, “Why?” Not the old why
of why must I spend five nights a week?”
Just “Why” even if by some magic
you knew, you wouldn’t dare speak
for fear of her laughter, which now
you have anyway as she places the five
tapering fingers of her filthy hand
on the arm of your white shirt to mark
you for your own, now and forever.

The narrator is aghast at the appearance of the worker, thinks it a mutation, an unnatural being. It is only at the end of the poem that he admits she is a woman, with the image of the feminine fingers. There is no direct conversation between them, only their mutual knowledge of work slang, a gasp, her laughter, and a final physical touch. She doesn’t question her existence, would only question why the wheel stopped, if it did, as if her work were her only means of identity. The narrator does not tell but allows you to figure out that it is possibly the work that has changed her physical appearance.

In “Growth,” we have another statement on the dumb self-image:

In the soap factory where I worked
when I was fourteen, I spoke to
no one and only on man spoke
to me…..
where I hammered and sawed, singing
my new life of working and earning,
outside in the fresh air of Detroit
in 1942, a year of growth.

The boy, bursting into adolescence and the age of individuality, celebrates his place in the world by being proud he is earning money, not a bad thing considering it is a time of high unemployment, but he is not even considering the dangers of working in a soap factory. There is only a snide remark on the polluted air of Detroit. He feels no need to talk to anyone. He identifies himself through his newly found job as if it were a badge pinned on him saying, hey, this is who I am.

“Among Children” is a portrayal of a schoolteacher in a fourth grade classroom. His students are the children of the factory workers that live in and around Flint. They are at naptime, a metaphor for how they are inevitably going to sleep their way through life, “so as to be ready for what is ahead,” slaving silently at dangerous jobs until they meet death. The children at ten years old are already being trained as physical laborers, evident by:

…how there backs have thickened,
how their small hands, soiled by pig iron,
leap and stutter even in dreams.

The teacher has no words of encouragement for them, no hope that they will be anything else in life other than what they are, what they were born into. He even reflects back to their births, stating, “not one said, I am sick, I am tired, I want to go home,” revealing personalities that will be perfect for silent acceptance into the working life.

In another teacher-student poem, “M. Degas Teaches Art & Science at Durfee Intermediate School,” the teacher makes a diagonal line across the blackboard and asks, “What have I done?” Several children offer logical answers, “You’ve broken a piece of chalk,” “you have created the hypotenuse of an isosceles triangle,” “you have begun to represent the roof of a barn,” “You’ve begun to separate the dark from the dark,” but M. Degas is waiting for only one answer—hers. This is a statement on conformity, the taking away of free thought that is prevalent in working-class public schools, and perhaps for a reason. How else will these students grow up and tolerate their grinding lives if they are not taught to accept authority. An orange is blue, if that is what the boss tells you. And, you, the worker, will agree, may even come to believe it.

The collection ends with “The Seventh Summer,” a poem about the narrator’s problems with his Jewishness. He receives all kinds of flak for his religious identity, and for several hours one fine summer Sunday, he doubts his teachings and his God. He spends the afternoon enjoying the beauty of the world and life, thinking that it could possibly be the suffering of the Son of God who made salvation possible. In the end, he rescinds into himself and his belief, though he never tells anyone, never stands up for himself. He slips out of the poem in silence, holding his head down with his Christian friends during grace, abstaining from saying the words, most definitely not thankful for what is being fed to him, and not accepting the norm.

Levine is from Detroit, where most of these poems take place. Unlike most of the people portrayed in What Work Is, Levine went to college and received a degree. He, unlike his portraitures, chose to do physical labor because he wanted a non-thinking job in order to free his mind to write. Levine offers no hope for the majority of the working class, offers no solution for the masses. He offers no demonstrations, no sit-down strikes, no cry against working conditions, no ripple in the fabric of society. There is only hope for the individual, not for the group. Does that diminish from the collection? On the contrary, it is non-didactic. By exposing these conditions Levine allows the readers to draw their own conclusions, to learn from the mistakes of others. Yes, Levine deserves the recognition he received for this book. He is a master poet—a maestro of maestros.

This review first published in the Buenos Aires Herald.

Buenos Aires Hearld

 

Bridges, Woodlands, and Open Road

Stephen Page’s Lit Rep Has Entered Cincinnati, drove around the suburbs, eaten-on-the-road food, stayed in a roadside hotel, seen a horrible car accident, and left, enjoying the freedom of the road and the beauteous countryside. She has placed “The Salty River Bleeds” and “A Ranch Bordering the Salty River” in the following locations:

Sharonville Public Library

Deer Park Public Library

Madeira Branch Public Library

Old Milford Library

Goshen Branch Public Library

Owensville Branch Public Library

Clermont County Public Library

Doris E. Wood Branch Library

Joseph-Beth Booksellers

Detroit Rocks!

Stephen Page’s Literary Representative recently passed through the City of Rock, Motown, birthplace of the U.S. car industry. She managed to find a home for “The Salty River Bleeds” in the following places:

Pages

Your Violet Hair Ribbon

“Your Violet Hair Ribbon” by Stephen Page

Last night you slept with your head on my chest,

My nose in your hair.

While I dozed the violet ribbon upon my wrist

Broke and fell off. This morning I searched for it

But could not find it, anywhere. I tied a new one

To my ankle. Hid another in my journal cover.

Did you have the same dream I did last night,

You with your head on your husband’s chest,

My wife with hers on mine?

madswirl editor’s note: A ribbon of deception; identities mistaken, lovers mismatched. So hard to awaken… – mh clay

To read MORE mad poetry, visit http://www.MadSwirl.com!

http://madswirl.com/poetry/2019/08/your-violet-hair-ribbon/

As published on MadSwirl

And included in the book, “The Salty River Bleeds,” by Stephen Page https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/the-salty-river-bleeds-by-stephen-page/ and published by Finishing Line Press.