The Friday Poem ‘Labor Day’ by Joseph Millar

Part of the year I live in a ‘swing state’ where the economy has not yet recovered, and politicians fill the airwaves with promises of transformational ‘greatness’. The Friday Poem this week is from Pennsylvania native, former telephone repairman, commercial fisherman, and poet Joseph Millar. ‘Labor Day’ captures the quiet of a national holiday, first celebrated in New York on September 5, 1882.

“The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday — a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.”

Labor Day

Even the bosses are sleeping late
in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.
No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,
sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam
or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve
of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,
the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines
turning a little, this way and that.

Joseph Millar  from ‘Blue Rust’ Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012

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