We want Bread and Roses Too

In January of 1912, 25,000 textile workers
in Lawrence, Massachusetts walked off their jobs.
The ten-week strike, “the strike that sang,”
focused attention on the condition of the unskilled,
foreign-born workers, among them young mill girls
who carried a banner, “We want bread and roses too.”

1. Plain Weave

Mixing bells and palls
and smoke you don’t even own.
In the short second month
the bricks are spoiled
and spoiled again in your eyes
on your way to work. You’ll be
the missing cog of wherewithal,
the saboteur of these industrious days.

You drop into each damp sack
of cloud the ash and raff
of promise and the promise
of beefsteak rare and the promise
of promise herself. You’ll get pie
in the sky when you die—
cold mince.
For bread
you take one length of the absolute
blue/black horror north of Boston.
This is the warp, the ends.
Through every other thread
you string yourself.
This is the weft, the shot,
the filling. This is the means
the ends are justifying.
For human good, for the good Lord,
the city’s motto says, for bread.

Dark as it is, we have our work,
ourselves. We bless the bread,
our scheduled death. We praise thee, O Lord . . .
We’re bored. We earn
our mess of pottage, two bits,
nine fingers.

2. A Thing Made

No one knows you’re in me
whole, thrumming. They think
I’ve swallowed the machine.
What a pity they can’t see
the sparrow in my throat.
What a pity that when they look,
they see the ceilings
with their perfect brass hooks.
They see a bolt of satin,
lace. A warrant for the concern.

It begins when it is finished,
when the bony imperatives
and the puns, the pranks
and statements of our common need
are done. And so we eat the crumbs.
And so it blooms. And you come
to me, then, with a lover’s knots
and grievances. So we want our bread
and roses too. Bread,
and roses too. And roses too.

:: Bruce Smith, The Common Wages (Sheep Meadow, 1983)

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