Monday, March 19, 2018

Three Work Poems – Analysis and Commentary

I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

The Child's Bath (1893) by Mary Cassatt

One of the great poems of the English language, “I Hear America Singing” by Walt Whitman depicts a compelling metaphysical vision—expansive, joyful, hopeful, and confident—that of a working-class chorus singing “strong melodious songs,” not literally but rather in the poet’s imagination reveling in the transcendent reality of a nation newly conceived: democratic America.

To Be of Use by Marge Piercy

Herakles and the Nemean Lion, with Theseus and the Minotaur (540-530 BCE)

The poem is a lyric exposition roundly closing, “the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies.” Principal strength of this poem lies in the series of striking metaphors—“black sleek heads of seals bouncing like half-submerged balls,” “pull like the water buffalo,” and so on—that serve as the vehicle for the expression of profound, deeply felt sentiments about work. Overall effect is vivid, cumulative, and climactic.

Edward Hopper’s Office in a Small City by Victoria Chang

The man could be the boss or could have a boss the man could have a
heart or could not have a heart the man is not working should be working

should be making profits not in fits but constantly the man looks out over
the yellow building over everything he must be the boss must be someone

significant because he is constant is above everything maybe the man is
deciding who to fire who to lay off who to slay with a fire maybe he is deciding

who to hire who is the best liar but the man doesn’t smile doesn’t smell the
flowers below or look at the people walking in the streets or the cars honking below

the man sits and stares at the shapes of vents on the roof of a building rearranging
them people are just shapes a circle for a head rectangles for the body and arms and

legs this man’s head over this woman’s body this woman’s head with another
man’s legs maybe the man is looking at the horizon wondering why a plane in

the sky is pointed downward towards the morning glories or the okra plants in the
meadow or a building with five sides

Office in a Small City (1953) by Edward Hopper

This poem was originally published in New England Review, Vol. 33, No. 1 (2012), page 8. See:

Using stream-of-consciousness, the poem almost rambles, with curious, unpredictable twists and turns. Subtly satiric—“the man doesn’t smile doesn’t smell the flowers below,” “people are just shapes”—the subtext introduces into our contemplation of Hopper’s classic oeuvre, meanings fresh, provocative, unexpected, and surprising. Both painting and poem are mutually enriched.

Sunday, February 25, 2018


“Tyrants impose, peoples depose.

“He who builds the future without regard for the past is like one who looks into the mirror and promptly forgets what he sees.”

1986 People Power Revolution

Wednesday, January 17, 2018


“Aloneness is alienation, solitude communion.”

“Solitude is the companionable presence of God.”

The Anchorite (1881) by Franz Ejsmond

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Short of It (more)

I listen to broken grass…

I listen to broken grass
Dried out by summer
Popping underfoot like
Frozen grass in winter.


Forbearance is silence…

Forbearance is silence,
Virtue of the meek.
Silence is complicity,
Oppression of the weak.


I like my coffee hot and black...

I like my coffee hot and black—
hot hornet stings,
black squid ink—
heady broth of
bitter cumin,
red pine smoke,
dusky forests,
blue lightning.


I like my tea hot and sweet...

I like my tea hot and sweet—
hot thermal blooms,
sweet billowing mists—
suffusing beverage of
crow-black herbs,
white-petal clouds,
distilled memories,
prophetic dreams.



Afternoon is a jeweler
Setting hours in gold,
As silver glinting waves
Slap the garnet shore.

Scottish shortbread fingers

Monday, January 1, 2018

Odds and Ends

This blog is a personal journal for public consumption:

Seated Figure (1989) by Ang Kiukok

The Short of It

You are the reflection...

You are the reflection on the pavement of a rainy day,
Mirror of the sky painted briefly by shadows of a bustling world.
Where is my soul but in your image?
Eternity will reveal your beauty glistening in the memory of water.


How dark the sky...

How dark the sky,
Bright the water
When silver fish
Reflect the moon.



A theory works until you try it out.

A theory corrected by experience is no longer a theory.

Wisdom is life experience applied to well-considered judgment.

Darkness arises from the absence or deficiency of light, obscurity from its excess.

Religion is a hat the devil wears to cover his horns.

Tinker to tamper is but one small step.

Do not surrender one handhold until you have grasped another.

When a pot fails to boil, turn up the heat.

The social sciences are like the straight edge of a ruler that guides the creative pencil of the humanities.

He who builds the future without regard for the past is like one who looks into the mirror and promptly forgets what he sees.

Populism is an incomplete and degenerate form of democracy.

Under a tyranny the law is misused as an instrument of injustice, persecution, repression, and oppression.

Correctly construed, the rule of law protects and upholds human rights and our God-given freedoms.

The rule of law creates, builds, and sustains just societies.

Originally published in The Penmen Review (October 16, 2017)