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Inheritance of the Meek

Madrid / Spain: architecture detail wwwuppertal via Compfight

Last week the Iowa legislature answered the prayers of our Governor Branstad when they voted to cut the benefits and eligibility of workers injured on the job. As he signed the bill into law, Gov. Branstad said, “This is a bill I’ve been waiting for for a long time.”

My poem examines the intersection of hard work and the opioid crisis, a health crisis that hits the working poor especially hard. Meatpacking was once a hard, dirty, brutal job where union workers could earn a middle-class wage. Still hard and dirty and brutal, the unions have been busted, the kill and cut lines have speeded up, and the wages have gone down. Repetitive motion injuries are common and, as the book Methland points out, workers sometimes medicate to survive the work.

My first poem in this series on the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount explores my ambivalence toward the beautiful words of Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Inheritance of the Meek

Shove lift              shove slash
send the still gushing
carcass                  head
down on the        hanging
hook to bleed out
in the gutter
in the cold
then again            each day
brings a                 tear
another rip to     shoulder
a cross too heavy
to bear
meekly
no, this                life
can’t be endured
for long
without resentment
with patience
without the pills
in the lunchbox
that numb
those                    tears.

– Steve Peterson

 

My Poetry Month project will explore the Beatitudes from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. I grew up a preacher’s kid in rural Illinois. While I’ve since drifted from the church, the stories of the Bible are deep in my memory. Even the way I talk and write (I’ve come to see) are connected to biblical language and cadence.

In this project, I will explore some of the stories that inform my past and play around with them to see where they bring me.

Published inpoems of protest and commentaryPoetry Month 2017

One Comment

  1. Mary Lee Hahn

    Oh. my.

    I’ve read this about four times now. Four different ways. The whole thing, just the separated words, just the initial words, just the verbs. The double meaning of tears and tear. The way shoulder ties together the worker and the cross to bear.

    Grim. Even more grim in contrast to the governor’s comments. Clearly he’s never done hard manual labor.

    Yes, ambivalence is a good word to describe the disparity between the beauty of the words and ideal, and the reality.

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