“At the Bessemer Flea Market”

Poetry, global capital, and the Deep South—

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 and 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 the walking sticks, Amani
carves eyes into the handle the better to see the way
forward, he goes into the thickets near his city home
to get his 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 tells me
bring the stick back if it needs something, he
leaves things unfinished to see what happens
next, pointing to the copper wires, takes pliers
and crimps them into spirals, what could be
an ear. If I have ears to hear, if I put my ear
to the ground, if I listen to the footsteps mark,
the people walking all around me in Bessemer.

For more on the “globalization” of Alabama,
see my article “From Alabama to Colombia:
Coal Company Faces War Crimes Charge”


Minnie Bruce Pratt

Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivs
Creative Commons 2010

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