Conversation With An Elder

A report back to Ira Grupper:



When you read that dedication

Anne Braden wrote to you, I got it!

I understood what it and you meant.

Hair standing up on my arm, tear in your eye.

When you told about how you had a certain conscience?

About working at the cigarette factory – I got that too!

And as a good student may,

I listened to every word, like it was gospel.

(I know now why us workers in the movement

have a tendency to throw all our works into the wind!)

The answer my friend …

When we stopped in Indianapolis

to get some lunch on our way back from Labor Notes in Chicago,

we stopped at Shapiro’s. You had matzo ball soup, I had a Ruben.

I was thinking about Kurt Vonnegut, that signed ACLU program my

Mother gave me. You talked about your kids, the struggle and asked me …

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

I asked you, “what was Carl Braden like?”

You told stories about being beaten in

the Mississippi summer race war.

We talked about the poet John Beecher.

Talked over a Brown’s soda about how my street smarts,

were all but gone. One of your other students told me awhile ago,

that he loved my mother because she had three children in tow

when she fought against Goliath.

I was young then, reading letters written from jail by Mandela,

listening to all the words of the Bob Marley songs.

Literal translations of the struggle.

And you said …

“You can’t take religion from the working class”

I am thinking about John, Paul, James, Mary and Joseph.

All my family names. I am thinking about Check’s and Shack’s.

I am thinking about the bakery on the corner,

where Grandma got the bread sliced.

I am thinking about a brown derby from Dairy Dell –

that bookie at Tim Tam’s bar.

I am thinking about all the books you said folks threw

into the Ohio River when the last Red Scare happened.

I am thinking about Muhammad Ali and his gold medal

he throwing it in the Ohio River in disgust.

I am thinking about the time I sat with

the Imam at the 4th street mosque.

He told me about when he was young how he went crazy

praying too much. All I asked the Sheik was one question.

“What do you think about Sufism?”

And he told me not to speak of that here.

At the place where a brick came through the window

back when 911 had just happened! When everyone was

huddled together, faces in hands – then on the carpet.

He told me about his life in Pakistan –

the mental institution he was taken to.

When i visited the once Mad Farmer,

told you about his kitchen.

How his wife complained that he wouldn’t

get the stove fixed.

I listened to every word he said too.

Like gospel, like sage advice. He said …

“Take care of that boy!”

I asked him why Carl was buried

in Eminence, Kentucky. Then, we drove in his truck,

along the Kentucky River, to bring in his sheep.

He said once that he, “sees God fishing in the Kentucky River.”

And you are the teacher! Not me!

So in conclusion … We are all wage slaves!

Don’t mourn, organize!

And in the words of our Savior Joe Hill …


Ready, Aim, Fire …

Let us pray:

Moss does not cling to a rolling stone.


Peace be with you.

And also with you.

In Shallah,

Solidarity Forever,

John Paul Wright

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