back to poems 1970s-80s

...sept 5, 1984...

fred tipped the bench


fred tipped the bench in white intensity -
an almost farmer labourer of time -
faded jeans - plaid shirt and eaten hands -
face written long in weather rivulets -
blue eyes lasered in and out of voice -

what i say is i say wait and see
see what they do -

he struck another match
to flame his pipe
puffing twice in smoke
that smouldered out -

i'll tell you why
i don't trust tory power - not that i like
religion in forever arguments
but i remember fifty years ago
when they were in - there wasn't any work
and all the politicians said "no money
to make jobs" - until the war broke out -
then suddenly they found enough for guns
and propaganda - but that was then -
maybe now they've changed - let's wait and see -
just wait and see - but i remember that
when i was young
i couldn't understand why everyday
we ate stale bread and old potatoes -

i found work at odd-time summer jobs
near harvesting - they never paid
enough - and my mother couldn't work -
she was widowed and most often sick -
she had to beg -

fred's eyebrows dove white wings
into his eyes - he knocked the pipe against
his knee and knifed each word in low -

no money - we stole our winter firewood
and still we almost froze -
the winters were the worst - no work anywhere -
all the government could say was "sorry
there's no money" - do you know how much
my mother got - how much she got
to feed herself and me and pay the rent
and every other thing?  you know how much?
two bucks and fifty cents - and that was s'posed to last
two weeks - but we were luckier than some -
there were dozens - hundreds of immigrants
with nothing - begging food from doorways -
and if you gave a crust they'd kiss your hand
and cry because it meant that maybe
they could live another day -

but that was then - perhaps its different now -
conservatives have always meant hard times -
maybe that's all changed - but fifty years ago
it was hell - god i'm feeling sick -
i felt good yesterday - real good
and voted liberal - but then elections
said conservatives were in - and with
a landslide victory - then i remembered back -
back then - all those depression years -
the luckiest were those who lived on farms -
at least they had some garden space for food
and even when the sun burnt out their crops
they salvaged more than city folk - and sometimes
they shot a rabbit just to break the craziness
that goes with starving - it was everywhere -

i remember that we had no curtains -
everything went into clothes -
one set to wear - another for the wash -
that is - for those who could afford two sets -
many never could - and without homes
they'd crowd the city streets and beg and cry -
no one really knows how many died -

i was always mad - mad at my mother
when we had no meat - no fish - no eggs -
only breads and porridges for mush
three times a day - all meals were the same -
and then the war - when suddenly it seemed
the government found lots and lots of money
to buy uniforms and ammunition -
i still don't understand it - then it was
conservatives and they were strong - and now
they're in again - and still talking guns
and uniforms -

fred struck another match into his pipe
ran blunt fingers through
loose wisps of hair and
shrank into the bench -

i don't like talking politics - let's wait -
let's wait and see -

he faded grey
shifting voice and eyes into half thought -

maybe - maybe they've changed -
let's wait and see.




©pamela swanson