365 Degrees

Tom Johnson
Poetry Editor

The Union Man

And the bossman brutal and mean
Sent John Brown down the hole...the abyss
I protested and I followed;
  We work down in the mines
  Where the sun never shines
  And hearts never stop crying.
...And John Brown, hard working, leader
Among workmen of the abyss - never
Complained, never grumbled, never
Rejected the bossman's favors
And I who followed lay
Trapped by rock and fire
And the bossman's lies;
  Dying because we were without
  Power, without purpose, without
  Voice, without unity, without control
  Over our bones and hours.
And surrounded by rock and fire
Down in that hole
We longed for a brighter day
And Black Ivory Monroe the union man
Who feared not boss nor system
Brutal and mean...
  Monroe who spoke up to give workers
  Power and purpose and
  Control over our bones and hours.
...And John Brown and I who followed
Never returned from the abyss
For we missed our chance to
Follow the union man.

And He Was Pretty Too

He was a whiz fist blur fast
He could run, never needed to hide
He had goals, he had skill, he had power
He had heart, he had words, he had integrity
He was the people's cherished champion
He was the greatest and he was pretty too.

Long lean legs, tasseled white shoes
Danced the prologue to the night's intrigue
One question abounded
Which round will the people's opponent
Go down in?
Like Langston's longhead jazz players
Ali improvised as he worked as he entertained
Ali was Bird, Diz, Monk, Miles
Be-bop bip-bop be-bop rope-a-dope.

A mere boxer, as things go, Ali
Embodied the aspirations of a people
The essence of a time, the gist of an era
In his fist, in his words, in his deeds
Ali became our symbol of defiance.

His banality helped us to laugh
Through our pain
His courage inspired us onward
His success gave us hope for ourselves.

For all of this we adore him
For all of this we canonize him
For all of this we love him
Muhammad Ali is the greatest
And he is pretty too.

(For Aunt Viola)

There was a time in the place
Where I was born
When the human spirit soared
Even under the rock of oppression
There were no words for mine
There were no words for yours
Everything belonged to everyone
In my poor hamlet of dirt and despair.

Oppression and poverty and illiteracy
And governmental bias and neglect
These things brought my poor village
Together sharing all
Childcare, potatoes, hammers, faith.

At breakfast we shared hope for the day
At dinner we shared a meager pot of optimism
At supper we shared the grief of yet another day
And still there were times of laughter and joy
Even to people who suffered so much for so long
God renders moments of gaiety for sharing.

But of all the things shared
In my village of dirt and needs
The thing most appreciated by me
Is my Aunt Ola's breastmilk
Each upon a knee we nursed -
My twin cousin and me -
Neither breast his
Neither breast mine.

Born in Hollywood (Charleston County) and reared in New York, Horace Mungin has been living in Ridgeville for the past 11 years. He has been writing poetry for some 30. His book Sleepy Willie Talks About Life, a collection of pieces based upon a syndicated column of political and social satire he wrote from 1979 to 1984, was published in 1991. Another book, Sleepy Willie Sings the Blues, is due out this year.

© Copyright by POINT, 2001