Ode to an Organizer

by November 29, 2009 0 comments

Shiny new rivets
adorned the rusted grain silo
like a diamond necklace
around the neck of a proud
but infirm lady
with gout, colitis and hearing loss
celebrating her 100th birthday
amongst loved ones.
But like the senior,
primed with lipstick, hair dye and a pretty dress
nothing could change the reality:
like any old woman,
the wheat collector’s best days
had passed
decades earlier.

Did anyone care?

Not the owner.
Not the foreman.
Not the wholesaler.

No love was lost
on the dirt poor factory workers
in the Southwest High Plains of New Mexico
except for one man –
Jack Johnson.
But neither the safety expert
and the recently formed
union membership realized
the day Jack climbed the stairs
to the top of the heap
to check the beauty
of the beast
would be remembered so vividly,
told and retold
from father to son,
for years to come.

Swinging on the second floor
above a metal grate,
a slender piece of metal, bent, twisted,
signed, Do Not Open While Smoking,
blew in the breeze
like a checker flag on a final lap,
near the shaky ladder
and equally unstable
oxidized steel platform.
Regardless of the peril,
the man
of conscience,
the man
of morality,
the man
of selfless dedication
to those under his leadership,
ignored any and all warning signs
and continued his ascent
on the day laborers rested.

The morning
Jack Johnson finally rested
in peace
his widow sobbed,
his children wept,
and his men cast suspicion
on the union buster
standing across the street
who leaned against
his brand new red truck
who crushed a butt,
a Marlboro,
under the heel
of his polished cowboy boots.
across from the local cemetery gate.

The story goes
as the union leader inspected
the cleanliness
of the air ducts
for a dangerous build-up
of filth and fine particles
in the concrete granary cylinder
an explosion
and subsequent mushroom cloud
looked and felt like
Fat Boy dropped from a U.S. bomber
on Nagasaki, leaving nothing behind
but Jack’s local badge number – 777.

The police chief claimed
Jack must have been careless
by smoking
and lit the spark
that ignited the blaze
creating a crater
the size of the dark side
of the moon.

Everyone at Willy’s Bar
cried in the small town that night
– except the owner
who cashed in
on a million dollar
insurance coverage
the very next week
of a business gone awry.

Johnson’s men
to this day
hail Jack,
the fallen,
as the saint
who inspected dangerous conditions
so many had complained of
so many had feared
would take their lives one day.
In fact, each night
before their monthly meetings,
men sing about the legend
who gave up smokes
five months before
and the devil
who snuck up behind him
and knocked the hero unconscious
before scampering down the silo ladder
like a rat running along top
a rope of a ship
docked to a pier.

Tears are always shed
when the song ends
with the murderer
running to his Bronco,
shooting from a great distance
only a sharpshooter
like he could do
to trigger the spark
that left only the soul
of a great man
and a bit of a Marlboro
cigarette butt in the dust…

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