Poems For Labor Day

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September 1, 2012 · Posted in Miscellany 

 Every Day Is An Act of Resistance: Selected Poems by Carol Tarlen (Mongrel Empire Press) edited by Julia Stein and David Joseph is the  first poetry book by Carol Tarlen, a San Francisco radical poet who died in June 2004. Jack Hirschman in his introduction says that in North Beach in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, Tarlen was writing some of the best poetry around.

Detroit poet Jim Daniels says about Tarlen’s work, “This book is simply a treasure. Carol Tarlen’s poems bring the human and political together in rich, heart-felt ways….”

Janet Zandy says this about Tarlen: “Tough girl, quiet Quaker, brilliant poet, worker for the working-class…. Her luminous poetic voice is large, direct, high-steppin, and justice-driven. Go ahead … read her poetry, teach it to your children.

Julia Stein wrote an obituary/biography, “Death of a Poet,” which was first published in Pemmican and then on the blog caroltarlenlives. If you want more background information about Tarlen’s life, work, and death

The book can be ordered from the Mongrel Empire Press website:






It was, finally, all she wanted

to be alone

in the back conference room

her empty desk mocking

her silent telephone

her supervisor’s anxious face

desperate to delegate

a rush job xeroxing

twenty-three travel vouchers

and their supporting documentation

the privacy to shed tears

like undergarments

before embracing

a lover who politely disappears

when the alarm rings

without demanding a cup of coffee

why are you in here

the chairman asks

and why are you crying

he clasps a bulging

manilla envelope


because, above my Premium II

386SX/20 megahertz computer,

there is a hole

in the ozone layer

the size of my heart

slowly opening up to heaven

which isn’t all

it’s cracked up to be

and besides, my friends

are dying of disparate diseases

my fingers no longer

grasp pleasure

or caress pain

I never sleep at night anymore

the sun is my enemy

I am an unwanted planet

without a moon, in fact,

without an orbit


I see, he says, is there

anything I can do

he waits the length of time

it takes

for the rhythmic contraction

of a heartbeat

by which blood is forced

onward, then asks


if she can transcribe the tape

he has placed on her desk

so that he can sign the letter

and she can get it in the mail

before noon






every day is an act of resistance

she thinks as she looks away

from the blinking green

alphabet and out the window.

streetcar wires cut the sky.

she likes movies about subways,

calls them underground flicks.

her word processor is beeping.

if she presses the message key,

“incorrect tab stops” will flash

across the screen’s bottom.

she refuses, stares at eucalyptus

leaves rippling in the wind.

when asked if she has bought

cookies for the faculty meeting,

she laughs and does not

turn away from the trees.




                                                we will bring to birth a new world

                                                from the ashes of the old


I am the large gold fish you peeked at

through the cold rain

into the algae green pond.

My flesh has seen the four corners

of the earth.  I am succulent.

My scales gleam into your

watery gray eyes.

I am the carefully placed objet d’art

that makes your phone calls,

types reports of your tax deductible

winter cruise,

greets your clients with

an oleander smile.

When I sit in my newly upholstered

swivel armless chair,

I dream of exotic locales,

walk in vast landscaped parks.

In midst I see myself

bent and old, a scarf around

my narrow shoulders,

digging in smoldering ashes,

but then I see

that I am wide hipped, tall, strong,

legs spread,






Our hands complain of protein deficiency as

David slices more than his ration of ham

5-1/2 lbs of meat per person per month in Poland

Pass the navy beans, please

They are pale pink and slushy

Legumes are good for the soul

The free enterprise of well-balanced amino acids

The dialectics of eating

Alicia denounces bland cabbage soup

History gets a C- at our fashionably

Bourgeois Butcher Block Table

When the grade drops to D+

We steal a loaf of bread

Then we build barricades




Today I slept until the sun eased

under my eyelashes.  The office phone

rang and rang.  No one answered.

Today I wrote songs for dead poets,

danced to Schubert`s 8th Symphony,

(which he never had time to finish),

right leg turning andante con moto,

arms sweeping the ceiling as leaves fell,

green and golden, autumn in Paris.

I sat in a bistro and sipped absinthe

while Cesar Vallejo strolled past,

his dignity betrayed by the hole

in his pants, and I waved, today


and the dictaphone did not dictate

and the files remained empty

and the boss’s coffee cup remained empty

while the ghosts of my ancestors

occupied my chair and threatened all

who disturbed their slumber


today, when I sat in bed, nibbling

croissants and reading the New Yorker

in San Francisco, and I did not make

my daughter’s lunch, I did not pay

the PG&E bill, I did not empty the garbage

on my way out the door to catch the bus to

ride the elevator to sit at my desk on time

because today I took the day off.



And rain drenched the skins of lepers

and they were healed.

Red flags decorated the doorways

of senior centers, and everyone

received their social

security checks on time.

And I walked the streets at 10

in the morning, praised the sun

in its holiness, led a revolution,

painted my toenails purple,

meditated in solitude,

today, on this day, when I took,

with pay, the day off.




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