The Kentucky Derby Is … What It Is …

The Kentucky Derby is a corporation –

like the coal companies and Japanese

bourbon barrel barons & back in the

old days  – was only a week-long festival …

– And I am sure,

Y’all are squeamishly hoping this

rant will end on a good note, like the house

slave that wants to get a good night’s rest –

comfortably in the quarters – “Y’all darkies

are supposed to be gay.” “Y’all know,

Papa gots his friends over an’ we

ain’t supposed to be talking about his

whips and all his tax breaks!”

The Kentucky Derby is as stupid

as full grown adults, waiting around

the fireplace, cookies placed and waiting

for Santa to come and leave big box warehouses

and nice new auto plants under the tree. And when

one of his beasts of burden, breaks its leg –

you wake the kids to help Santa shoot it

in the head.

The Kentucky Derby is a golden

cash cow worshipped, like the military air show

that runs up and down the Ohio river – while

the Belle of Louisville and our streets are

prostituted out to Masters of War and commerce –

we are supposed to be nice, like the bourbon

commercial suggests:

“Bonded” like the small-neighborhood family parties.

“Branded” like the jockeys exploited for profit –

like how the “green” justifies the horse shit

and the mint sprig, the alcoholism of the aggressor,

the audacity of gambling and gaudy hats of

the privileged.

The Kentucky Derby is a waste

of time because when this is all over,

your gonna wake up with a bad taste in your mouth,

praying that when you blacked out, you were not date

raped by your boss or fondled by one of

his frat boys, while his friends – standing

over – laughing and drunk –

money falling out of

their pockets – paid your friends

to hush up

about it.

But, don’t worry – It is what it is

Y’all come out smelling like roses!

Happy May Day!

When Woody Guthrie wrote –

This Machine Kills Fascists

on his guitar,

he was a volunteer in the

Merchant Marines.

The tool I am using now –

to write these words –

was made in China.

A Communist country

that has embraced

Capitalism.

 

When we had the

Good Neighbor Food CO-OP –

we had several 18 wheelers –

and a Federation of Ohio River Cooperatives –

we made our own distribution.

Kroger grocery is Union,

(so, was Woody’s boat)

and we were ordered

to compete and destroyed

because our services,

were a threat.

Now, look down at your

feet, past that pixilated tool

and those shoes made

by slave labor –

and tell me how many

lithium batteries you have

thrown away, into the Earth –

that we all are spinning on.

And like this we go

around and around …

– ring around the rosies

a pocketful of posies –

 

 – ashes to ashes

we all

fall down – 

1f339


 

 

 

How Complicit Do I Want To Be? Why I Left The Railroad …

Making the decision to walk away from a sixteen year career at a major class one railroad was not easy. The “fragment of a speech” that is posted below was one of the turning points that greatly fueled my decision to leave a place that in some ways, was a place that I very much enjoyed working.

When I first heard this “fragment,” I was brainstorming for a conference that the organization Railroad Workers United was hosting in Richmond, California. As the national organizer, my task was to welcome many organizations, many that do not normally work together, to an environmental conference to find common ground on very complex issues of public safety, working conditions and labor.

The inspiration that I found from this “fragment” was a question that I had to ask myself over and over for about two years.

How complicit do I want to be?

After watching the video many times I wanted to find the book that the speech came from and couldn’t find it, So, from the YouTube video, I typed out the “speech” that Mr.Berry gave at Yale University word, by word and in the process, was deeply moved.

I later contacted Mr. Berry to ask him where I could find this “speech” in print, and sent the words that I had lifted from the YouTube video. He sent his book, Our Only World, with a note explaining that the Yale presentation was “fragments” found within the pages of the book.

The opening statement “that we are all complicit in its violence,” really was the haunting thought that fueled my decision to leave driving trains for a living behind.  I found myself not wanting to participate in the destruction of Our Only World.

I found myself not wanting to drive military trains, fertilizers and GMO poisoned soybeans and corn. I found myself not wanting to haul coal, oil, fracking sand and waste. I also found myself not wanting to be exhausted mentally, and physically from the excessively long hours and harsh working conditions. And …

After the railroad that I was working for completely cut the union out of the safety conversation, I found myself not wanting to participate in a violent relationship that included a one-sided behavior based safety working environment.

I enjoyed my union work,

and the folks I worked with. I will miss the many wonderful people who I had the honor of working with for sixteen years of my life. I will in my music and poetry, continue to tell of my passion for the place I labored that is simply called the railroad! I will continue to care about what happens on the rails and will be inspired by what the railroad could be …

Since the California conference in 2015, I have twice had the opportunity to meet with Mr. Berry in his home. I have come to find myself deeply inspired by his work, deeply moved by his poetry and looking forward to a new life away from a haunting question rolling around in the back of my mind.

Below is the fragment of a speech that inspired me so deeply.

For more information about Wendell Berry go here.


The Industrial Economy From Agriculture To War – A Fragment Of A Speech

Wendell Berry – Introduction to the Yale Chubb Lecture Discussion. 12-07-2013

The industrial economy from agriculture to war is by far the most violent the world has ever known and we are all complicit in its violence. The history of industrialization has been violent from the start, as the Luddites quickly learned. The purpose of labor-saving technology has always been to cheapen work by displacing workers, thus increasing the flow of wealth from the less wealthy to the more wealthy.

It is a fact, one we have never adequately acknowledged or understood, that at the end of World War II, industry geared up to adapt the mechanical and chemical technologies of war to agriculture and other ways of using land. At the same time certain corporate and academic leaders known collectively as the committee for economic development decided that there were too many farmers.

The relatively self-sufficient producers on small farms needed to become members of the industrial labor force and consumers of industrial commodities. Reducing the number of farms and farmers became a devastatingly effective national policy.

The first problem of a drastic reduction of the land using population is to keep the land producing in the absence of the people. The committee for economic development and their allies were fully aware of this problem and they had a ready solution. The absent people would be replaced by the mechanical and chemical technologies developed for military use and subsisting upon a seemingly limitless bounty of natural resources mainly, ores and fuels.

Agriculture would become an industry. Farms would become factories like other factories ever more automated and remotely controlled. Industrial land use became a front in a war against the living world. And so with a few exceptions the free market was allowed to have its way.

Finally, nearly all of the land using population have left their family farms and their home places and moved or commuted into the cities to be industrially or professionally employed or unemployed and to be entirely dependent upon the ways and the products of industrialism.

This process of eliminating the too many farmers still continues. Nobody ever said how many were too many. Nobody ever said how many might be actually necessary.  Even so, to remove the farmers from farming required of shift of interest from husbanding the fertility of the land to burning the fossil fuels with consequences so far less famous than terrifying.

But there was another problem that the population engineers did not recognize then and have not recognized yet. Agricultural production without land maintenance leads to exhaustion. Land that is in use, if the use is going to continue, must be used with care and

care is not and can never be an industrial product or an industrial result.

Care can come only from what we used to understand as the human heart – so-called because it is central to human being. The human heart is informed by the history of care and the need for care also by the heritage of skills of caring and of care-taking.

The replacement of our displaced rural families by technologies derived from warfare has involved inevitably a supposedly acceptable and generally accepted violence against land and people. By it we established an analogy between land use and war that has remained remarkably consistent ever since.

The common theme is a terrible pragmatism that grants an automatic predominance of the end over the means. The sacrifice of land and people, to the objective of victory, domination, security or profit. In oblivion or defiance of moral or natural law that may stand in the way. All of our prevalent forms of land use which is to say – land use minus care produces in addition to commercial products, massive waste and destruction.

War is politics minus neighborly love plus technological progress which makes it – ever more massively wasteful and destructive.

There is in fact no significant difference between the mass destruction of warfare and the massive destruction of industrial land abuse.

In order to mine a seam of coal in Eastern Kentucky and West Virginia, we destroy a mountain, its topsoil and its forest with no regard for the ecosystem or for the people downhill, downstream and later in time. The difference between explosion in the coal fields, and the erosion in the corn and soybean fields is only that erosion is slower. The end, the exhaustion of nature’s life supporting systems is the same.

1806578

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dead Grateful – Even Further (draft)

Dead Grateful

Louisville, Kentucky

04-23-2017

Set II

The Ballad of Joe Hill

Woody Guthrie

Pete Seeger ->

Utah Phillips

Wendell Berry –>

The Other Ones ->

Drums -> Space is the Place ->

GDTRFB ->

Ken Kesey ->

Ed McClanahan

Brett Eugene (hobo) Ralph ->

Uncle John Gage’s Band

 

enc. Anne Feeney

 

I am writing this chapter about two months after I quit working for the railroad. I suspect I shouldn’t leave without an EVEN FURTHER, explanation. I was inspired to write this last doo hickey of a word play because I visited with a fine man yesterday and read to him a chapter of my unfinished book. I seriously respect this man, his work, heart and writing.

 

He is in the greater story. At one point, back in my manic days of the 1990’s, I think in Lowell, Massachusetts, at the Kerouac event, we bumped into each other. The Rant event, the one with the crazy ride with a bone man, when I was manic as fuck, and a real burning man.

 

Brett Ralph. At some point, we shared a shot of bourbon at a party. I remember a hotel room and it being dark. I was sitting on the floor and this really big dude was standing above me. He was laughing like the man from lake, the Iron John of a dude, that he is. That guy. I went to his new record store Surface Noise, yesterday, and read the chapter about the crazy folks that I feel massive solidarity with. He knew some of them. The Brotherhood of Contraries.

 

I stole that line and chapter title from a Wendell Berry, Mad Farmer poem, rather, I borrowed it. See, hipsterly speaking, right … The first time I was invited to visit with Wendell, I had some conversation with Utah Phillip’s widow before the meeting by the river. I told her I was visiting with Mr. Berry and asked her what I should ask him. She suggested to ask him if Gary Snyder was ever in the I.W.W. I suspected this was a trick question.

 

When I got a chance to ask him about Mr. Snyder, Mr. Berry leaned back in his rocking chair and said, “well then,” and said he was not sure about that. We talked briefly about it and in conversation, he contemplated that he didn’t think the I.W.W was around anymore. So, I showed him my red card.

 

After I sang one of my songs, Mr. Berry was very entertained and happily said, “’yep, you sure can sing!” So, hipsterly speaking, right? I guess that was good enough for me? … That experience found me talking with Utah’s son Duncan Phillips again. He mentioned that he read a Wendell Berry poem at Utah’s funeral.

 

So, a button on your shirt, and, before I wrote this book, I had not a clue who Ed McClanahan was. I found a paperback that my father in law had of Ed’s just recently and read it. I recently read Kesey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Except the girls and the fishing trip …been there done that and got the T-shirt.

 

After reading my chapter, Brett suggested that I have my voice and that he was intrigued by the story. He encouraged me to keep working on the book. I trust Brett, he teaches English at a Kentucky College! I trust that he was giving good critical voice to my chapter. Sometimes, I must wonder why I am doing this … I am a folk musician, not a writer, captin’.

 

 

I am somewhat aware that being a writer is a way of life. and, you can start sentences with and. And further and however, hipsterly speaking, right? Wallace Stegner is a chump! He got the whole Joe Hill story wrong! His research for his books on Joe Hill was, in my humble opinion, sloppy. His life works, and activism? Mind-blowing and something to not shake a stick at.

 

I recently made a new electronical friend in a photographer from the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper. He has made it his work to prove that Mr. Stegner did Joe Hill the union organizer, a disservice. Not to mention, basically threw an academic nose up to the I.W.W when they called him out on his bullshit. So, me being the devout Sun Ra follower that I am, have this to suggest …

 

First, if you didn’t RFD (read the fucking directions) the first time – I suggest firing up that google machine, look up Sun Ra, then second, apply this thinking to Joe Hill, the labor myth.

 

“If I am telling a lie, they have to judge whether the lie is more profitable to them than the truth that they know.”

 

Sun Ra said that fragment of his thinking in the movie, “Make a Joyful Noise.” And, the reason I started this chapter like a Grateful Dead bootleg, was because the connective thread that seems to be my personal teaching moment from this writing experience has been – Wallace Stegner. It is more profitable to me, as a person who very much understands the power of myth, that Joe Hill remain the labor hero that he is.

 

It is very cool that Joe Hill’s family and the family of the man who they accused Joe Hill of shooting got a chance to meet on the 100th  year after Joe was murdered. It is also very cool that my electronical friend has made this story close to his heart. I suspect one day, my photographer friend and I will meet in person. That’s exactly how Joe Hill works. The Power of the Union …

 

I wrote the suggestion, Even Further on my car with a boxcar moniker paint stick, a couple of years ago when I started this journey. I am not sure why I was moved to do so. I was following my bliss. I was doing what Joseph Campbell suggested. I was in my sacred place, doing what I do. I was being – in. Listening to the voices of elders. I made Anne Feeney the encore of the bootleg, for this purpose … I wanted to tell just one more story before I considered this book finished.

 

Once upon a time, in Chicago at a Labor Notes convention, an Appalshop Documentary by Anne Lewis & Mimi Pickering was shown. The movie is called Anne Braden: Southern Patriot.  When I saw it in Chicago, it was one of, if not the first public showing of the film.

 

I was sitting right next to Anne Feeney for this showing. To make a long story short. I knew Anne Braden was important, but, after that film, I was blown away. Somewhere in the middle of the film, I went outside to call my mother. I walked out to the hotel parking lot to get some alone time at a very bustling convention to tell my mother that in the film they had documented the work we did back in the Anti-Apartheid days at the University of Louisville.

 

My mother, was tired, fighting cancer, and couldn’t talk. She wanted to … but told me that she needed to rest. She told me to have a good time and to be careful, and that we would be able to talk about it when I got home. I broke down. Cried like a baby, snot running from my nose…weeping. and then went back inside to watch the end of the film. This was the first time that I as a man, thought that my mother was going away – soon, going to be gone. That thought, killed me.

 

Anne Feeney, saw my tears, heard my voice when I briefly mentioned after the film, in the open discussion period, that I was from Louisville. We walked out of the presentation together and Anne said to me loudly, as she slapped my back, “we have a softy!”

 

When I was on the Joe Hill 100 tour, I got a chance to really meet Anne Feeney. She is an amazing woman. The point of this chapter was to find a way to mention a lot of connective thoughts. Mention, folks who I have a deep respect for. Honor. This Is the folk tradition way. We must share! It is not boasting to have a need to tell a story. It is a must to share. That is how it is done.

 

The list at the beginning of this chapter, is at the root of my fragmented thought that I use on my website. Railroad Music: The Thread in the Quilt That Is Americana. There are many circles to talk about, many connections. Many tracks to go down. Utah Phillip’s suggested that Anne Feeney… Well, here is the quote from her website.

 

Anne is “the best labor singer in North America” according to Utah Phillips.

 

and I agree. What else could I say?

 

At that same Labor Notes convention, I handed out 100 free CD Baby download cards of my then new CD, Born Union. Not one person downloaded it. So, hipsterly speaking, right? Nobody likes a complainer?

 

Here’s why no one downloaded the CD. I hope!

 

People need a face to face, authentic human experience.

Folks need to know that you’re not trying to hornswoggle em’!

 

Ken Kesey considered himself to be the link between the beat poets of the 1950’s and the Hippies of the 1960’s. I consider myself to be the link between the anarchists and I.W.W members of the day and the connector track between the Dead Headish cooperative hippies of the 1980’s and the folk punk, hobo train kids there-of. I am a GenXer’ and take that as a label in-kind; counterculture so be it. I’ll own it, if I must. Baltimore Red suggested that I am the unknown the poet laureate of the union. I’ll accept that.

 

I am not interested in being part of the folk music industry. That is why I took the word Americana back and used it in my motto. A Folk Music industry? It would be against the soul porpoise of the goal!

 

All puns and miss peeled words – intended.

 

After words …

 

 

As a seasoned railroad worker and union activist, when I first learned of John Wright’s poetry and music, I knew that I was experiencing a rare phenomenon. J.P.’s songs come from real life, from day-to-day work 24/7 on the railroad. While the old railroad classics are among my favorites, anyone can play “The Wreck of Old 97” or “The City of New Orleans”.

 

Brother John is taking modern day stories – from his and his co-workers experiences – and creating heartfelt, humorous and often hard-hitting songs and ballads that speak intimately – not just to “rails” – but to anyone who has ever worked for a living. There is simply no one out there doing what J.P. Wright is doing.

 

At a rally in San Salvador in 2002, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was the bands – the “entertainment” – rather than the official speakers, who lead the show from the podium, who set the tone of the event (an international rally against the Central American Free Trade Agreement). It impressed upon me that we need more artists, musicians, poets, story-tellers and performers of all types to step up and lead at these types of gatherings.

 

My Fellow Worker on the railroad – John Wright – is one of those with the keen insight, creativity, and artistry to transform an everyday sterile, dry, and lackluster “political event” into an uplifting and mind expanding experience. With his stories, poems, music and humor, J.P. speaks to working people’s reality, drawing them into the fight, providing encouragement and confidence, urging them forward.

Ron Kaminkow

General Secretary

Railroad Workers United

Reno, Nevada

01-24-2017

The Poetry Dump

This weeks poetry dump is sponsored by you.

Please donate to my work .. i do PAYPAL. Suggested 

re – tail price = $2.00

railroadmusic333@gmail.com is my address …

and .. if you is strapped for cash, I understand ..

hows about a re-tweet for a share! 

Enjoy …


For – Mrs. Bonita Points

My neighbor, she is 96 years old –

came out and walked around our

pond. we share this place –

i watched as she and her cane –

hobbled around a little path that

she maintains – her mind almost gone-

her look – far off and she reaches out

her hand- i take it into mine

as if i am greeting

a royal queen.

 

i already knew

she wouldn’t remember

when she called the police

on us for chopping down

one of her trees. And when

the policeman came …

he asked me how long her

husband had been gone …

he asked me what we should

do to make this right.

and on that day, i told him

he had been gone a long time

and that we should listen to her –

she won’t remember this anyway!

 

(… all she really wants is to find her

husband on that path, she wants

to look up from her weed pulling

and see him standing there,

her partner – who she talks about

every time we meet …)

 

… and as neighbors do,

she parted with some kind words –

she made a mention that soon

she will meet him up there!

I told her, that he has been

waiting a long time! she

shuffled away into the afternoon …

seemingly content that all

of this is here, the pond, the trees

and the yard that she

once bought with him,

planted with him,

soon my neighbor will be gone …

the 96-year-old angel

of his dreams …


20170418

… and he asked me “what are your politics?”

I told him Frank Zappa was my favorite

guitar player. Because he paid his musicians

a fair living wage.

Why don’t we talk

like that anymore?

 

I believe in my Djembe!

I believe in collectivism,

cooperation –

like as in an Arkestra …

 

Who followed the leader,

because the leader knew he

would need to make another

mistake and do something

wrong … and make another

mistake and do something

right!

 

(and … all of this is but fragments

of thought radiating from years of

experience. Nights, burning away,

high on life’s blood surging

like panic and inspiration.)

 

It’s after the end of the world,

so … workers … fellow workers,

as we are forced to build their

pyramids – and as we are forced

by gun point and neglect – to watch

the takers of the world destroy all

that is … don’t forget to look at the

stars – remember to look into the

water at the mirror image,

and remember this is all about you!

and me too …

 

ashes to ashes –

we all fall down

if we fall to fear …

 

our religion is reason,

my political views

are man-made. The laws of nature are

relevant to us all. Self-help comes

directly in action and inaction.

 

We revolve …

resolute –

If we build a new world?

They will try to destroy it.

I, don’t want no part of theirs.

They can keep their ashes –

their corpses – and monuments.

 

OBU

 

(Yours for the Alter Destiny…

Space is the Place….)


From a recent show at Lettersong Gallery 


from today – Sunday – Oh, Louisville .. SMH …

20170423 –

Sunday Mournings

Agitated –

the slaves cry from the field …

master – with watchful eye

his employee shall do his

doing –

bidding –

so as to keep his hands

free of responsibility –

master doesn’t whip his slaves –

he sub-contracts out that labor …

(now turn over the tag

on your shirt)

and ask this question …

Do I Support Slave Labor?

How do we defend that?

Pick up a rock!

Are you (triggering)

A revolt – a slave

insurrection – intersection

from the other

side of the tracks?

(I’ll clean a pane of

my glass house

and continue)

agitated-

the slaves cry some more –

and X – Marx the spot

where they killed the

reformer – turned

against him –

they listened to all

the critical judgement-

the name calling-

the War of factions –

(now, turn your clothing

inside out- and walk

a mile in my slave made

work boots)

Buy into my story –

agitated –

gather round me children

a story i will tell –

of a code talker

and a heroine-

the slaves knew her well-

(now, i am holding a tool

made by machines)

agitated-

and marginalized

seeing red…

wave that flag

wave it high

i got the US blues –

(this is madness)

wave

that freak flag

and kiss the sky –

and now call me

a punk… and pick

up another rock!

(now, let us remember that

LP’s are made from oil)

and what about this

and what about that –

the house slave is getting

nervous – it’s awfully

comfortable and cold

in his

glass house!

so, he fracks a bit of coal

(now, slaves- have you

mourned enough)

Organize!

Agitated- ill sip

some more of my

morning coffee

made by farmers

who collectively

own a coop –

and the seller owns

his business – yet

his employees?

(this is a family business

you can talk to us directly)

Now ask yourself …

What is a union?

and X Marx the spot

where ISLAM and Peace

rests. (They) killed Malcolm

The code talkers?

No! (A black mass)

movement –

(and X Marx the spot

where C+C still = C if there

is no slave to trade in

a market that is free)

and 2+2 still = 4 unless

you fall to fear –

a caged mind

of duality!

(i’ll change a pane

of broken glass)

You could think

about time …

grab another rock

because X Marx the spot

where (They) killed

MLKjr … the code

talkers?

No!

Fear

Agitated

for Change …

The slave slips

away – and the

farmer

is drunk

as the animals

gather …

(have you learned

the lesson yet?)

I’ll go (Even Further)

so gather round me

children

Hop on the buss

and a story i will

discuss

about the hero

who stole from the rich

and gave to the poor …

and then Quit!

He had gone far enuf!

Agitated.

(now, get back to

revolt.)

Agitated-

shit floats to

the top

jP

 

Muckrakers United

I B of C local 1

amen & Sisters too!

IMG_1688

A letter to Wendell Berry …

Dear Mr. Berry.

 

I am a forty five years old locomotive engineer Kentuckian. I have read only but a few of your words and have watched only two videos that you are featured in. I have learned in my middle age that it is very unfair and dangerous to put someone on a pedestal. I have and just might be somewhat in what some might call a midlife crisis.

I feel as if I am being pulled.

I must mention, that I have a reading disability and have a very hard time enjoying books. I also must mention that I have found an amazing resource in a service called Librivox. This service is a crowd sourced audio book collection. 

 

I just finished listening to everything Upton Sinclair ever wrote. “They Call Me Carpenter” and “The Profits of Religion” being my favorites. I am now upon suggestion from a very good friend of Utah Phillip’s, listening to the “Iron Heel” from Jack London …

I feel as if I might mention that their words have only further grounded and centralized my feelings that I was raised to have. I am the son of an activist who knew and worked with Anne Braden. My mom did not get national credit for her work. My mother was a teacher in Jefferson County, Kentucky but she did not write a book, but she was as instrumental part of getting the University of Louisville to divest its funds from South African Apartheid.

 

I was raised by activists, railroaders and electricians, in Kentucky. 

 

My front yard was George Rogers Clark Park in Louisville, Kentucky, Mulberry Hill, The Clark family home is where I played … in a creek that ran into Bear Grass Creek, catching crawldads and building dams with grey clay.

In this park, there is a very large tree.

The Tree is located very close to where the Clark family positioned their spring house. It was at this tree that I found the Great Spirit. Where I read “Touch the Earth”.  (I got it from John Gage’s son ….) I spent many a day with my back leaning against this tree reading speeches from the great native chiefs of our land called America. This tree is where I fell in love with our Mother Earth. I visit this tree when I miss my mother. Sometimes I visit it alone. By myself. I loved my mother and miss her … She loved the tree too. 

 

I have fallen in love with one of your poems, but, before I fall any deeper in the well known as Wendell Berry, I must mention, that I feel very drawn to your vibrations. Maybe it is because we have drank of the same water, maybe it is because we share a love for the same state. Maybe it is because our accents are very close.

My mother in law is from Henry County. I suspect you might know who Vernon Rucker was. He was my wife’s grandfather and at one point the Sheriff of Henry County. Florence, her Grandmother, worked at the Chat and Nibble in Eminence for many years. 

 

I am writing you to ask a favor, but to further explain somewhat my request, I must explain something that I am still trying to figure out. So I, a brave to the elder, might suggest that maybe you should organize the International Brotherhood of Contraries.

The labor movement sure could use it.

I am a rank and file union activist, and that don’t get you very many friends in the labor movement these days. I am a serious defender of union democracy.

The men of today have been taught an aggressive union thug mentality.

I am struggling to survive at CSX railroad. This is partly the pull that is fueling my crisis. I am afraid…. but… I am only afraid for others, or at best, very confused. 

 

As I write this, I have put it out there in the air, that I request a meeting with you, to ask a favor. I am helping to organize a Labor / Environmental conference in Richmond, California and Olympia, WA with my organization Railroad Workers United.

If this letter was to make it into your hands, I would be extremely excited. I have tasked longtime friend and somewhat spiritual adopted father John Gage with the task … to see what he could do to get this meeting done. John is getting old and his heart is well … John is another of these folks who have not received the national attention that I personally feel he should have been bestowed.

He has played a million camp fires …

at least that is his figure. I am a folk singer labor activist train driver, and that brings me to this statement. 

 

I feel a very “fierce urgency of now” of course that is a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. I am hoping to get a solidarity statement from you. Let me explain. Some more. I love talking, as you can probably tell, I am not the educated seasoned writer. But if you have ever read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, you would understand the reference to the trees that I make. I feel that many of you Ents are waking. John Gage is one of them, his versions of your poems are amazing.

I am inspired, by the few words of yours that I have read, but it is in your cadence of voice that I feel shaken and moved. So far what I have heard of your voice from Youtube videos has been music to my Kentucky tuned ears.  I know, now, why I should have listened to you earlier. I know you have been “working on a ship” that we are building for a while now. That is a U. Utah Phillips song. If I get to meet with you, I’ll sing it to you and further explain the conference. 

 

So, therefore be it resolved that …

 

I think I may start reading Wendell Berry. I might as well … but, I promise not to put you on a pedestal. It is your sincere unapologetic honesty and willingness to be mindfully truthful that I am most inspired by. I can feel your passion. I am listening.

I can only hope to influence and resonate

with as many people as you have.

 

So far as I can tell, I can make heads or tails of this that and the other when it comes to the words and voice of a one Mr. Wendell Berry … thank you for your time. That is what we all seem to need more of … 

 

And be it further resolved ….

“we all put our paints on the same way….”

 

In Solidarity,

 

John Paul Wright

Railroad Workers United

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Bandanas and Beer

Bandanas and Beer

 

I read in the paper that my father’s bar was sold,

probably will be torn down for some new office

buildings. A bar named for a derby horse, a place

where I could find his truck, there, every working

day. I would ride my bike across George Rodgers

Clark Park, to listen to men, be men. My father

never sat at the bar, but stood at the end, like

the father sits at the head of the table.

 

I am dreaming of bandanas and beer, turtle soup

and hot red potatoes. A Grandmother with a pairing

knife, hot bacon grease and great Grandmother eating

the peels as we go. I am dreaming of what used to be

and what is now just some memory, that floods into

my mind with just one mention of a smidgen of it.

 

Yes, I knew Leo Burmester, but he is merely a thought,

he was the brother of my father’s best buddy, who had

a wife named George. Like the first name of the park

I grew up on. Walking dark nights in the tamed wilderness

of the city, growing up in the shadows of cherry trees

that stood while Louisville was young.

 

Those men, Joe, my father, Mike and Leo. My motorcycle

stars, bandanas and beer flood into my mind. The bar

on the far reaches of Germantown, Tim Tam’s will be

gone, like the bar Shacks, down the street from Check’s.

The bar where I drank my first Falls City, while men

cheered the game, I was only nine or so, the son of

a Wright, in a neighborhood built by families and

German-American dreams.

 

Dreams, like the thought that I am from that place. Like the

dream I am now following of a wife, who’s deep roots in

Henry County, are not strong enough to hold her spirit there.

I have been accused of dreaming, and yes, soon, if not already

most of what I see as me, is gone.

 

The German Club, the wooden chairs that we as children sat in,

waiting for our families to get done rehearsing some weird version

of heritage. My Grandmother’s friend Ruby, trying to hook her friend up,

yet, she still, even though He has passed, She is married to Lester. She

dances with him every New Year’s Eve, as we stood around

the bar in the basement. She twirled, maybe high on Old Grand Dad

and coke, a highball of thought, bonded like the whiskey.

 

So, yes, I knew him, and I know he is famous, like that man you

are archiving! The last time I met with the wise man of the river,

I sat in the front seat of his truck. We brought his sheep in from

the pasture. He told me that someone thinks he needs a new truck,

and I knew what was wrong with it. It wasn’t loaded up for a trip

down Dixie Dieway.

 

There wasn’t an orange bag of Mammoth Cave Twist on the dash.

Leo was not in the passenger seat as my father cuts me a piece

and I, throw up my guts, because I just wanted to be like my cowboy

elders, listening to WAMZ, stopping at the bait shop for a pickled

chicken dinner. The fellers that would trick me to duck as we passed

the tank, at Fort Knox and then get me to carry a heavy skillet down

the path to our weekend middle class cabin at Rough River and make

fun of me, because it was too much for a little guy to handle, like all

those memories that flood into my mind, run on and on with just a

mention of Leo’s last name.

 

My Grandmother Kaelin, and her chicken house. The place us kids

played every Sunday. She lived next door to my Grandmother who

lived next door to my Father. And every Sunday, we all sat and ate

ice cream and chocolate syrup. Bless us oh Lord, for these and thy gifts,

for which we are about to receive, just one neighborhood, under God,

indivisible, like the Red Bandanas and Beer and tight-knit families.

Amen.

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