Not a Good Time To Be in Arizona
There’s the line, the fine line
that when you cross it,
you’re enemy, no longer skin
and rind of the solidity of laborers that’s now
come in bare-assed
asking only for what there was before and when
that line becomes your perceived
right to work in the copper mine,
heat from the Arizona desert
flares the heat of tempers.
Sticks, clubs, bats flick at the gate.
Three hundred cross the line. Bad
faith negotiation; the company
continues all operations, their ongoing
union infiltration. Inside,
an officer counts ammunition;
Chandra Tallant, three, daughter of Keith,
electric shuttle operator—the first
strikebreaker, this time, in Ajo—
sleeping in her bed gets an undirected
bullet, survives. The lead’s left in her head.
Brown desert dust covers the town.
No one ever establishes the motive,
knows who fired the weapon. Here,
everyone has a gun.
Sulphurous smelter smoke mixes with mist.
North Wall, Union Hall
[American Labor: Fortitude, Pride, Honor, mural
by David Tineo and Tomas War Cloud, USWA
Local 616, union hall, Clifton, Arizona, painted
during the 1983-1986 strike against Phelps Dodge.]
It’s painted to remember those escaping
a past littered with the scrap of rusted cars,
ghosts of debt and cracked adobe,
who eat cactus if they have to.
It’s over now. What’s left is elegy.
The elegy of twelve days, twelve nights
painting the people’s lives upon
forty feet of wall.
Forty years of union
are over now; the Copper Collar
of influence, wealth, and power has choked
the air out of its dead as it always meant to.
Their eyes are hemorrhage.
Soon the hall will be padlocked. It’s over now.
Thirty union locals dissolved.
Copper spills over brush-stroked
ground as it spills over all
the earth, and in the air, a dark
helicopter hovers as labor disappears into smoke.
State troopers lob tear gas canisters.
It’s over now.
This is the after;
this is the sadness of the loss
Seeberville, the Shootings
[In 1913, two Croatian immigrant miners were shot in the town
of Seeberville, Michigan while on strike. This event marked the
beginning of a long period of anti-union violence in the copper-
rich Keweenaw Peninsula.]
I mourn the ten girls in white,
ten swirls of veil
that follow a woman in white,
my symbolic bride,
stand-in for the Mrs. Alois Tijan
who will never be,
down Fifth Street,
the white hearse carriage
pulled by horses—my funeral ride from
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
to Lake View Cemetery,
the Finnish Humu band
at the lead.
The bosses and deputies don’t regret
a man’s death.
Wreaths of evergreen,
wildflowers, blue iris,
fireweed, forget-me-not. Please,
forget me not, my neighbors,
friends, thirty-five hundred who line
the streets. Thank you for the beauty
of this ceremony;
I haven’t seen much beauty.
I mourn New Lipa,
Calumet, where we Croats
settled in America to eat and sleep,
abide in rooms one hundred thirteen
square feet apiece.
I didn’t want to be the first to die.
I mourn Steve Putrich, killed by deputies too
who shot us at our boarding house,
spoons in our hands.
Clutching a ticket of hope—
And the old people die in peace because
they have hope; the little ones shall fare
better than ever they have done.
* * * * *
Quotation is from the notes of a Croatian schoolteacher, as quoted in Emily Greene Balch. Our Slavic Fellow-Citizens. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2010.
Susana H. Case, professor at the New York Institute of Technology, has recent work in many journals, includingHawai’i Pacific Review, Portland Review, Potomac Review and Saranac Review. She is the author of the chapbooks The Scottish Café (Slapering Hol Press), Anthropologist In Ohio (Main Street Rag Publishing Company), The Cost Of Heat (Pecan Grove Press), and Manual of Practical Sexual Advice (Kattywompus Press). An English-Polish reprint of The Scottish Café, Kawiarnia Szkocka, was published by Opole University Press in Poland. Her book, Salem In Séance (WordTech Editions), will be released in 2013. Please visit her online at http://iris.nyit.edu/~shcase/.