Thursday, April 22, 2010

MY PAPA'S WALTZ by Theodore Roethke & MILLWORKER by James Taylor

(Woman mill worker, Lowell, MA)

Two snapshots of working class reality, by consummate wordsmiths.


by Theodore Roethke

The whiskey on your breath
Could make a small boy dizzy;
But I hung on like death:
Such waltzing was not easy.

We romped until the pans
Slid from the kitchen shelf;
My mother's countenance
Could not unfrown itself.

The hand that held my wrist
Was battered on one knuckle;
At every step you missed
My right ear scraped a buckle.

You beat time on my head
With a palm caked hard by dirt,
Then waltzed me off to bed
Still clinging to your shirt.


by James Taylor

Now my grandfather was a sailor
He blew in off the water
My father was a farmer
And I his only daughter
Took up with a no good millworking man
From Massachusetts
Who dies from too much whiskey
And leaves me these three faces to feed

Millwork ain't easy
Millwork ain't hard
Millwork it ain't nothing
But an awful boring job
I'm waiting for a daydream
To take me through the morning
And put me in my coffee break
Where I can have a sandwich
And remember

Then it's me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
For the rest of the afternoon
And the rest of my life

Now my mind begins to wander
To the days back on the farm
I can see my father smiling at me
Swinging on his arm
I can hear my granddad's stories
Of the storms out on Lake Erie
Where vessels and cargos and fortunes
And sailors' lives were lost

But it's my life has been wasted
And I have been the fool
To let this manufacturer
Use my body for a tool
I'll ride home every evening
Staring at my hands
Swearing by my sorrow that a young girl
Ought to stand a better chance

So may I work the mills just as long as I am able
And never meet the man whose name is on the label

It be me and my machine
For the rest of the morning
For the rest of the afternoon
For the rest of my life

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