Poem of the Week, by Kenneth Rexroth

12992796_10153436069706921_222675689_n-2“Live every day like it’s your last because someday you’re going to be right.”

“I am America. I am the part you won’t recognize. But get used to me. Black, confident, cocky, my name not yours. My religion, not yours; my goals, my own; get used to me.”

“The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”

“Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Vietcong ever called me nigger.”

Last night I woke up in the middle of the night to the news that Muhammad Ali had died. He was a hero to me, as he was to so many others. Not because he was a boxer (I’m not a fan of boxing; Ali suffered from Parkinson’s for over thirty years) but because he was only and ever himself; he stood up for what he believed in and he never backed down. Ali was tough as hell, and so is this poem.

The Bad Old Days
     – Kenneth Rexroth

The summer of nineteen eighteen
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall
my father died and my aunt
took me to Chicago to live.
The first thing I did was to take
a streetcar to the stockyards.
In the winter afternoon,
gritty and fetid, I walked
through the filthy snow, through the
squalid streets, looking shyly
into the people’s faces,
those who were home in the daytime.
Debauched and exhausted faces,
starved and looted brains, faces
like the faces in the senile
and insane wards of charity
hospitals. Predatory
faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,
under the green gas lamps, and the
sputtering purple arc lamps,
the faces of the men coming
home from work, some still alive with
the last pulse of hope or courage,
some sly and bitter, some smart and
silly, most of them already
broken and empty, no life,
only blinding tiredness, worse
than any tired animal.
The sour smells of a thousand
suppers of fried potatoes and
fried cabbage bled into the street.
I was giddy and sick, and out
of my misery I felt rising
a terrible anger and out
of the anger, an absolute vow.
Today the evil is clean
and prosperous, but it is
everywhere, you don’t have to
take a streetcar to find it,
and it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
anger, and the vow are the same.


For more information on Kenneth Rexroth, please click here.
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