Children of the Working Class

By John Wieners 1934–2002 John Wieners
to Somes
 
from incarceration, Taunton State Hospital, 1972
 
gaunt, ugly deformed
 
broken from the womb, and horribly shriven
at the labor of their forefathers, if you check back
 
scout around grey before actual time
their sordid brains don’t work right,
pinched men emaciated, piling up railroad ties and highway
ditches
blanched women, swollen and crudely numb
ered before the dark of dawn
 
scuttling by candlelight, one not to touch, that is, a signal panic
thick peasants after the attitude
 
at that time of their century, bleak and centrifugal
they carry about them, tough disciplines of copper Indianheads.
 
there are worse, whom you may never see, non-crucial around the
spoke, these you do, seldom
locked in Taunton State Hospital and other peon work farms
drudge from morning until night, abandoned within destitute
crevices odd clothes
intent on performing some particular task long has been far
removed
there is no hope, they locked-in key’s; housed of course
 
and there fed, poorly
off sooted, plastic dishes, soiled grimy silver knives and forks,
stamped Department of Mental Health spoons
but the unshrinkable duties of any society
produces its ill-kempt, ignorant and sore idiosyncrasies.
 
There has never been a man yet, whom no matter how wise
can explain how a god, so beautiful he can create
the graces of formal gardens, the exquisite twilight sunsets
in splendor of elegant toolsmiths, still can yield the horror of
 
dwarfs, who cannot stand up straight with crushed skulls,
diseases on their legs and feet unshaven faces of men and women,
worn humped backs, deformed necks, hare lips, obese arms
distended rumps, there is not a flame shoots out could ex-
tinguish the torch of any liberty’s state infection.
 
1907, My Mother was born, I am witness t-
o the exasperation of gallant human beings at g-
od, priestly fathers and Her Highness, Holy Mother the Church
persons who felt they were never given a chance, had n-
o luck and were flayed at suffering.
 
They produced children with phobias, manias and depression,
they cared little for their own metier, and kept watch upon
others, some chance to get ahead
 
Yes life was hard for them, much more hard than for any blo
ated millionaire, who still lives on
their hard-earned monies. I feel I shall
have to be punished for writing this,
that the omniscient god is the rich one,
cared little for looks, less for Art,
still kept weekly films close for the
free dishes and scandal hot. Some how
though got cheated in health and upon
hearth. I am one of them. I am witness
not to Whitman’s vision, but instead the
poorhouses, the mad city asylums and re-
life worklines. Yes, I am witness not to
God’s goodness, but his better or less scorn.
 

The First of May, The Commonwealth of State of Massachusetts,
1972

John Wieners, "Children of the Working Class" from Selected Poems, 1958-1984, published by Black Sparrow Books. Copyright © 1986 by John Wieners.  Reprinted by permission of the John Wieners Literary Trust.

Source: Selected Poems, 1958-1984 (Black Sparrow Books, 1986)

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Poet John Wieners 1934–2002

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

Subjects Living, Health & Illness, The Body, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, Class

Biography

Born in Boston, poet John Wieners received a BA from Boston College and studied at Black Mountain College with Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, and Robert Duncan. He later followed Olson, his mentor, to SUNY Buffalo. A Beat poet and member of the San Francisco Renaissance, Wieners was also an antiwar and gay rights activist. His poetry combines candid accounts of sexual and drug-related experimentation with jazz-influenced . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Living, Health & Illness, The Body, Religion, Faith & Doubt, Social Commentaries, Class

POET’S REGION U.S., New England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Black Mountain

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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