Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ed Markowski's "Union Men"

Besides being an excellent haiku poet, Ed Markowski has a penchant for proving me wrong. First, it was baseball haiku, which I'd previously spent quite a bit of time deriding. Today, it is haibun, which I have long felt I could take or leave, mostly the latter. Usually to me haibun seemed just a sorry excuse for not being able to fit everything in 12 to 18 or so syllables. By my arbitrary rule of measure, anytime it takes many more words to explain a poem than the poem itself contains, something's amiss.

Wrong again.

I had hold of the wrong end of the haibun. What I discovered, in a number of ed's excellent sequences, is that my problem was I was reading the wrong haibun; further, that those practicing the craft might sometimes be decent haikuists but shabby prose writers or vice versa. Good haibun don't necessarily contain an explanation for anything; they may be a revelation or a sort of record of an organic process.

Be that as may be, I'm ready to sit at the feet of the master, anytime.

Which brings us to Ed's sequence, Union Men, which follows below. With this sequence, Ed's managed to coax me into new territory in more ways than one. What follows is the initial publication of this sequence, which marks the first time that Issa's Untidy Hut is actually publishing something entirely new online. Also, Ed's sort of stirred up some political sentiments hereabouts, not something that I often indulge. Frankly, as my life mate can tell you, I've been stirred up quite a bit on my own lately, specifically about what's been going on out there in the "real world" - record unemployment and, yet, lots and lots of corporate profits. Slimming down the work force, rightsizing, baby, letting the rich cover their mistakes by riding it out on the backs of those less fortunate ... again. The squeeze is on folks and you just know who sure as hell isn't gonna get squeezed.

I touched on some of this in a previous post, No War But Class War. What's at the bottom of the endless Mideast war and the collapsing economy and our self-indulgent ignorance of anyone or anything else on the planet and the disaster that passes for a health care system in our 50 glorious states I can't tell. It feels too late, way, way too late. Nobody is smart enough, nobody cares enough, nobody has the wherewithal to do a damn thing, except the haves in this have-and-have-not world.

We need a bit of that hope about now, Mr. President.

Which is a long vituperous, possibly inappropriate, and decidedly unnecessary way to introduce Ed's sequence, so I'll start it out with an apology: mine, not his. As you can see from the following, Ed's got nothing to apologize for. He stands straight and tall, as do his words, his family, his friends.


Union Men

Being raised in Detroit during the 1950's & 60's
for me meant being raised in the union.

factory entrance
moths spin 'round & 'round
a caged lightbulb

My maternal grandfather helped organize
the Ford Rouge Plant in the early 30's. His
friendship with Walter Ruether was forged
during the street battles with Henry Ford's
Pinkerton goons.

first light
--the strikers
---clenched fists

He was fired & rehired three times from
Rouge. Old man Ford nicknamed gramps
"The Catholic Communist," a nickname
he carried with pride. My grandfather told
me many times, "The only place Marx
& Engels went wrong was in their inability
to see that Communism was a philosophical
& political descendent of Christ's Sermon
On The Mount. Marx & Engels didn't create
Communism, Jesus did."

--the rainbow ends
----at a union hall

My father was a steward in the United Steel
Workers Union. I can't count the number
of times our mother took my sisters & I to
deliver pea soup, ham sandwiches & potato
salad to dad & his friends when they
went out on strike.

wind blown snow the picket line holds

During the holidays we went to union Christmas
parties & our Christmas gifts were purchased
at the union toy store.

on strike
--the department store Santa
makes a promise I can't keep

At the steel warehouse, dad operated an
overhead crane. His hook-up man, Frenchie,
had fought for the resistance during the war.
Frenchie had seven fingers, one eye, a frown
shaped scar on his throat & he was an
unapologetic communist.

half moon
--which side are you on

Frenchie was a down right ferocious man.
Looking back on it, had he told people that
he had survived The Paris Commune, they
probably would've believed him. Frenchie
had an aura of indestructibility about him.
He was a working class super hero & he
was Santa at the union toy store on
Jefferson Avenue.

nativity scene
---Santa quotes

My grandfather, father & Frenchie were men
of great strength, courage, compassion,
& love. The men who raised me were Union
Men, & I'll be forever grateful.

home from
the steel warehouse
dad's lunchbox
filled with flowers

Ed Markowski


Ed's sequence stands on its own. As always, his imagery is impeccable, the haiku as good as it gets. In particular, "factory entrance," "wind blown snow," "half moon," and "home from" just grab me and won't let go. "first light" appears, initially, almost a cliche; yet, as with the tallest trees, the upraised hands are where the light will "strike" first, the purest illumination. The feel of "wind blown snow" is near perfect; how hard it is to hold the line on a full-force, Detroit winter morning, how it almost might give, the ambivalence of the blustery snow passing in and out of the line, yet still the line holds. Visually, it is stunning, set to the pounding pulse of all of nature. The resonance of "half moon" is a short story in itself. The intermittent prose gives a seamless,cohesive quality to the sequence, adding depth yet not gilding the lily, as it were. There is humor here and love, friendship and determination, futility and courage, above all family and, yes, it bears saying again: love. Ed, you've snapped me out of my funk, simply pointing the way:

dad's lunchbox
filled with flowers


This week's featured back issue is #12, from April 1990. Here are two poems touching on the fragility of life and tenderness.

Day's Work
Not really knowing
how it got to this,
or when it turned into
something else:
the giving over,
the giving out,
the giving up.

The shovel handle, the rain.
Michael R. Battram

Gullied Lives
Raw ravines
by wind and rain
and time.

Hearts don't break.
They weather.
Albert Huffstickler

after the rain
the ground hardens...
glorious blossoms
translated by David G. Lanoue



Ed Baker said...

Right down the middle of the "strike zone"

a 107.454 miles-per-hour fast-ball!

Eddie M "our" starting pitcher...

and, dig his cover: that a "baseball"?


pee est: I've lived "inside the beltway"

almost straight through since

2:14 a.m., April 19, 1941

that IS pre Atomic Bomb AND pre WW2

Frank Parker said...

Hi Don - Impressed with the high quality of today's left turn at Issa's Untidy Hut, I posted a link to same on my Facebook page. Today's entire section hits the mark, no mean feat. Congratulations and thank you!

Anonymous said...


Charles Gramlich said...

Definitely a very interesting sequence. I've not paid much attention to haibun but this one shows the potential of the form for sure.

Joseph Hutchison said...

Terrific post, Don. NO apology necessary. And thanks for the haibun sequence. I've been of your previous mind about the form but like you, confronted with this strong work, am forced to rethink it. Rather than rethink I think I'll try it....

Anonymous said...

hey Ed

I got two recently publised
books her

G OO DNIGHT and Restoration Poems

wanna trade?

I don't paginate so

how many pages is your

No War book?

I mean,

I don't wanna get
paginationally 'screwed'
over mere poetry

"great poetry" is in the balance

you can find me here:

far beyond
frog leaps

or is it

far beyond
moon leaps


Ed B.

Greg Schwartz said...

thanks for posting Union Men, Don. Ed's one of the consistently best haiku poets I've ever read, and he definitely has a flair for the prose, too. Union Men is a great haibun. If it ever came out in print it's something I'd be proud to find a place for on my bookshelf.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Glad everybody liked this one. Ed Markowski's is amazing.

Greg Schwartz said...

great picture, Don - downtown B-more, right up the street from central booking. a place for class war if there ever was one.

Issa's Untidy Hut said...

Thanks, Greg, I was wondering about that. Just read your Mayfly haiku "rain clouds" - very nice.


Ed Baker said...


notice the Biddle Street
on the van and over the truck?


My grand-dad and his dad had a grocery AND a saloon on E. Lombard Street must be where Biddle Street was/is!


heck, I can yet smell the knishes and corned-beef!

outside of Brooklyn

Baltimore the best kosher food ANYWHERE!

not too many folks left who know how to
corn a brisket much less eviscerate
a chicken ...

full moon
another chicken
for the soup

Greg Schwartz said...

Don - thanks, glad you liked it! Mayfly is a great journal.

Ed - i see that Biddle Street Catering truck parked on the bridge on Chase Street almost every day, between Guilford and Eager. It's almost a landmark itself.

Ed Baker said...

on the way to Ball-tee-more in a cpl weeks to my cousins'
55 th wedding anniversary

at their favorite restaurant in Little Italy


now I recall getting a sandwich called
The Ammici

sort of like a Mighty Moe..

this is Alan "the horse" Amacci

that actor who was Alexander Graham Bell

Alan Amacci single handedly used to kick the Deadskins' arse... in the 50's

my Uncle Sam Skolniik was for almost 40 years The Colts' Marching Band's manager!

used to be neat to go to a Redskins/Colts game and see the two greatest marching bands of ALL time
at half-time!

better than the games!