Peasantry in America

I'm going to put on my social conscience hat on for this tidbit. Occasionally I do that, as witnessned my last novel, The Proud and the Immortal, a tome about modern day homelessness in America. Or as some would clasify it, an atypical tale about the haves and have-nots in our society. This all came back to me when I came across the work of poet Jim Harrison. Yup, sometimes peotry says it all.

What got me on this kick? Well, it's no secret that the U.S. is fast becoming the most econonically stratified society in the western world. This fact is particularly obvious since I live in New York City, where the middled class is being rapidly decimated by Bloomberg and his real estate cronies. But it's not only that, it's the recession in general which has really made it clear the inequity between the rich and poor. And it is a gap that's widening. Let me give you some numbers. According to the Survey of Consumer Finances sponsored by the Federal Reserve Board, the wealthiest 1% of families in America own roughly 34.3% of the nation's wealth; and the top 10% own over 71%.

Another sudy by New York University made it even more stark: in terms of financial wealth, the raw calculus just dealing with money, they own an even greater share of 42.7%. Since financial wealth is what counts, we can say that just 10% of the people in our country own the United Sates of America. For the rest of us? Either we get by or starve. Now, history has shown that such disparities in wealth is not good for the body politic. And it's even worse when (and this according to government statistics) over 32 million citizens live below the poverty line.

I could go on spouting statistics and studies and numbers till your head hurts. But, Jim Harrison's poem given below says it best. It's a cry, and a warning.


On Easter morning all over America
the peasants are frying potatoes in bacon grease.

We're not suppose to have "peasants"
but there are tens of millions of them
frying potatoes on Easter morning,
cheap and delicious with catsup.

If Jesus were here this morning, he might
be eating fried potatoes with my friend
who has a '51 Dodge and a '72 Pontiac.

When his kids ask why they don't have
a new car he says, "these care were new once
and now they are experienced."

He can fix anything and when rich folks
call to get a toilet repaired he pauses
extra hours so they can further
learn what we're made of.

I told him that in Mexico the poor say
that when there's lightning the rich
think that God is taking their picture.
He laughed.

Like peasants everywhere in the history
of the world ours can't figure out why
they're getting poorer. Their sons join
the army to get work at being shot at.

Your ideals are invisible clouds
so try not to suffocate the poor,
the peasants, with your sympathies,
they know that you're staring at them.

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