There are ways that we die, in our bodies and minds,
And one is the way of the worker,
Who may labor for pay but who frequently finds
She’s imprisoned, because she’s no shirker.
If you care for a child or an elder or one
Who is ailing – or teach in a school,
And you care for your wards or your subjects, you run
And you slave – and they think you’re a fool.
So you’re treated like dirt, by the ones who’re in charge
And even by those, whom you work with.
You’ll be robbed of your sleep and your peace, till discharge
From the job, as a worker unfit.
I’ve taught many years in the schools in a borough
That once was a city as well.
And I’ve learned how to teach so as not to be thorough
And so earn a good living from hell.
To “go with the flow” is to say what is apt,
To pass off, as truth, what’s a lie –
For the one who’s not clever, who cannot adapt,
Is swatted and squashed like a fly.
“I’ve had it, my friend!” my co-worker said, “I feel I’m a moron – a fool! I can’t do my job, there’s a fire in my head, And soon, I’ll be starting to drool. “The sleep that I get isn’t restful or long – I’m panicked and always behind. I can’t do the things that they want. I belong In a nuthouse – I’m losing my mind! “I can see that my days in this job will be dire, Even more than they’ve been till this day, Unless I can change – which I can’t. To retire And be poor, is what’s left as the way. “There were times, in the past, when the work had its fun, When I felt that my labor had paid, So I slept well at nights. Though I still had to run, I could do so. My nerves weren’t frayed. “I have taken as much as I can of this strife. I will have to retire now, my friend. So this year is my last. Though this job’s been my life, It is time now to end it – or end.”
I answered him lightly, with scant consolation.
Perhaps I’d been at it too long.
My manner had roughened, from years of frustration
In a place, where I did not belong.
“We’re here in a nuthouse, that’s also a jail.”
I said to my colleague and friend.
“The sincere – in this job, they are destined to fail –
For they’ve heart, and don’t follow the trend.
“You’ve been working too long – and you’re paying the cost,
For we’re marching and prancing in step,
But you’re tired and confused. You are frightened and lost,
And you feel you’re the stupidest schlep.
“Oh hi-dilly-dilly and hi-dilly-do!
You don’t see a way to get out of your rut.
So sing with me, hidi-hi, sing with me more!
For what does it matter, if they think you’re a nut?
“How can you think, when your brain is on fire –
If you’ve worked and you’ve worked and it still makes no sense?
So sing with me, hidi-hi! Before you retire,
Sing with me loudly, and you won’t be so tense.
“Oh pity the young ones, and pity those caught
As they’re ground by the millstones of madness to flour.
And think, what you’ve suffered – and vow, there’ll be naught
That you won’t do to stop this, that’s still in your power.
“For how can you think, when your mind is aflame –
When all that you’ve worked for is whittled to naught?
So sing with me, hi-dilly, hidi! For blame
Won’t free all the students and teachers who’re caught.
“So you first must escape – and put out that flame.
And then, with your thinking and speaking and acts,
Put an end to the running and lying and blame –
Dispense with the falsehoods and deal with the facts.”
“I’m tired and confused – for it’s all so surreal! But the outside is better, you say? There are times, when I think that this just isn’t real – That I’ll function again, if I stay. "Perhaps all the teachers will rise up and cry, ‘We had it! Enough, with this dung!’ Perhaps then our union, on hearing that cry, And fearing, will get back its tongue?”
I laughed – and I told him, what cynics would say.
And he winced, when he heard what I said.
Perhaps I was harsh in my words and my way,
For he listened – and hung down his head.
“They’ve got us, they’ve got us! There’s Bloomberg and Arnie.
There’s Rhee and there’s Gates and there’s Cuomo and Klein.
And who is resisting? Is Mulgrew or Randy? Ach nein, meine Herren und Damen! Ach, nein!
“So sing with me, hidi-ho, hi-dilly-dee!
You’ll still go out singing, although you’ll sing low.
And when you’ve retired, remember then me!
And do then your damndest, so this is no more!”
“What? Escape from the jailhouse and stay at its fences? You surely are joking, my friend in the jail? Say what? They’ll still get me, the Bloombergs and Gateses? My pension? Oh come on! This city can’t fail…”
“My friend and colleague, who’s retiring, who’s worked
His sentence of years and yet more – yes I know
That you gave of your best – and you rarely have shirked,
But your work is beginning – and your labor will grow.
“But sing and rejoice! For now you’ll be free!
No more of the dread and the drudgery, no!
You’ll work now for love – and for those who’re like me.
For us and our students, you’ll settle the score.”
He had listened and quieted. I waited a while.
It seemed, at a juncture, my friend had arrived –
For he looked at me strangely, with a sad sort of smile,
As he spoke to me softly, in a whisper that knifed.
“You’re dreaming, my friend, who is caught in the school. I’ll think of you often – and perhaps you are right. I’ll still have to fight on – but only a fool Would flee from the darkness – to run back to night!”
My turn, to be quiet! Our roles had reversed.
It was I, who now felt like a fool.
And perhaps this was right. For a man should be cursed,
Who has treated his friend like a mule.
He left rather early. He was late the next day.
I saw he was smiling. I guessed at the why,
But asked for a reason. He answered me, gay, “I’m off to the city, to tell them ‘goodbye’.”
2014 September 28th, Sun. (edited & added to, October 8th, Wed.) Brooklyn, New York