Archives for posts with tag: front-line workers

Neva Austin
Soul Sustenance at Aggie Mae’s
by Rosalie Sanara Petrouske

At 4:00 a.m. every morning, the lights come on at Aggie Mae’s bakery in Grand Ledge, Michigan, which is home to the 300-million-year old sedimentary rock ledges for which our town is well-known. At Aggie Mae’s, everything is made from scratch and from locally sourced ingredients: soups, sandwiches, bakery items, and a variety of tasty homemade breads, such as oatmeal, sourdough, risen cornbread, classic rye, French country, and many more. During the Covid-19 pandemic, baker and owner Neva Austin continued to open her store and serve the public through carry-out, online orders, and curb-side pick-up.

Before life as I knew it changed, and I was forced into isolation alienated from my friends and family, including my daughter, a third-year law student, I used to stop on the way home from the college where I teach to sit at one of the tables, sip a café latte, and enjoy a respite from grading papers; perhaps, just to read a book for pleasure. The ability to feed and nurture my soul became rare. Once, I learned that my favorite store was still open, I called in to order a Hungry, Hungry Hannah sandwich, Chicken Pot Pie soup, and a Death by Chocolate cupcake, a death I would much prefer than from the coronavirus, if that is what I had to face.

While other front-line workers helped to keep us all safe, doctors, nurses, police men and women, and over-the-road truck drivers who worked 24/7 to stock the grocery store shelves, Neva Austin gave me and other community members a different perspective. As I enjoyed a warm, slathered-with-butter slice of seeded sourdough bread, I was returned to a semblance of normal, my soul once again nourished and comforted.

PHOTO: Neva Austin, owner of Aggie Mae’s in Grand Ledge, Michigan.

Photos of Aggie Mae's

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  Neva Austin has been baking from the time she was a little girl learning next to her mother in the kitchen of the family’s Eaton Rapids farmhouse.  She started selling her homemade breads and pastries at local Farmer’s Markets and opened her Grand Ledge store six years ago.  Aggie Mae’s is named after her mother.  When my quiet house or working at home becomes overwhelming, I call in an order and drive over to Aggie’s for a few minutes of conversation (masked, of course) and to partake of homemade soup and a slice of her delicious bread. With the warmer weather, I braved sitting outside at one of the sidewalk tables to enjoy a bit of sunshine with my lunch.

PHOTO: Aggie Mae’s, Grand Ledge, Michigan.

Rosalie

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Rosalie Sanara Petrouske is a poet, writer, and photographer, who has two chapbooks of poetry with Finishing Line Press, and has been published in numerous small journals and anthologies.  Her most recent publication was with Silver Birch Press’s LANDMARK series.  She is a professor of writing at Lansing Community College, and lives in Grand Ledge, Michigan, where she can frequently be found walking the ledges or along the Grand River, when she’s not enjoying a treat at Aggie Mae’s.   Find her on Facebook and find her books at Finishing Line Press.

Author photo by Eric Palmer

HILBERT 1
Dad’s Lunch Box
by Donna Hilbert

Dad climbs down
the telephone pole,
stretches out under a pepper tree,
opens his lunch box:
black metal,
substantial like a vault,
or a government building
in a Balkan country.
Under its dome
wire arms hold
a Thermos of coffee.
On the bottom floor,
Vienna sausages on a bed
of mayonnaise, white bread.
For dessert, butterscotch
cream-center cookies.
Dad unwraps a sandwich, eats.
He pours coffee into the cup
his Thermos lid makes,
dips a cookie, watches it bloat,
then holds his lips to the rim,
slips the sweet bits
into his mouth.
I like to think
he savors pleasure
before he stands the box on one end,
touches a forefinger to his tongue,
his damp fingertip
gleaning crumbs
to feed the sparrows who wait
in slender leaves.
Then, one foot
over the other,
he climbs the pole again.

Originally appeared in Traveler in Paradise (PEARL Editions, 2004).

PHOTO: The author’s parents, Pollyanna and Don Bruster, during the mid-1960s.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My mom and dad spent their entire working lives in what in this pandemic time would be considered essential services: Mom as a postal clerk and Dad as a telephone lineman. If they were working today, they would be masked and working for the common good as they did on every workday of their lives.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Donna Hilbert’s latest book is Gravity: New & Selected Poems (Tebot Bach, 2018). She is a monthly contributing writer to the on-line journal Verse-Virtual. Her work has appeared numerous publications including Rattle, The Los Angeles Times, Braided Way, Chiron Review, A Year of Being Here, Cultural Weekly, Sheila Na Gig, Zocalo Public Square, and is widely anthologized. She writes and leads private workshops in Southern California, where she makes her home. Visit her Amazon author page, find her on Facebook and at her website, donnahilbert.com.

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No Heat
by Alan Walowitz

Leo didn’t want much for the work,
but when offered the piano-keyboard
that lay doused in cellar dust—
same shit had wrecked his lungs a lifetime
and now caused this clogged,
syncopated samba, to come from the place
his voice box should be—he packed it up,
wheezed, Good Night, Ahl,
and was gone for good.

I call him every day to finish the work,
mend the pipe still leaking—no answer,
till one night he turned up in a dream.
But you know dreams; you can’t remember
what they were by the time you wake—
though Leo liked to say
you could dream an answer to anything:
String theory? No problame;
Nuclear fusion? Here is how you do;
The way to rerout the pipe
that’s in the path of the life you really want.

Now when I open the closet
Leo built tight as a casket,
I almost hear the rhythm of old Porto Alegre,
picked out by two fingers
pulsing back and forth on the keys,
puk shhhu, puk shhhu, puk shhhhu,
the drip of hot water on frozen floor,
and then the steam that comes.
The sound could drive you nuts,
unless you choose to shut the door.
Or close your eyes and dream it gone—
along with every little thing you tell yourself
shouldn’t mean this much to you.

Originally appeared in Melancholy-Hyperbole and was republished in The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems from Truth Serum Press, 2019.

IMAGE: Ad from a 1924 campaign for American Standard Company, a plumbing supply business founded in 1880.

Walowitz (some of Leo's work) with No Heat

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Without a good handyman, someone as incompetent as me couldn’t own a home. Leo was one of the best, a wonderful, sweet man who had many skills as a carpenter, electrician, and raconteur. However, he wasn’t  much of a plumber.  As he was rebuilding my basement, Leo seemed to be getting more and more sick. He refused to see a doctor, until I insisted and made an appointment for him. He completed his work, but soon it was winter and a pipe that he had re-routed as part of the job began to leak. Leo tried his best to fix it, but was too ill to see it through. Soon after, I couldn’t reach him on his cellphone, nor could I locate his daughter in Brazil. I keep his number in my phone and I try it occasionally, but now it’s someone else’s line. I keep hoping Leo will stop by one day—as he used to—but, after all this time, I fear the worst.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: I have no photo of Leo, much to my chagrin. Nor, could my friend Freddy, also a customer, find the one photo of Leo he had from years ago. This photo is a part of Leo’s plumbing that had to be removed and replaced. I don’t hold Leo responsible. He was sick at the time—and I miss him.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: After 35 years of teaching, Alan Walowitz is now retired from his second career as a teacher of teachers. He’s a Contributing Editor at Verse-Virtual, an Online Community Journal of Poetry.  His books are Exactly Like Love (Osedax Press) and The Story of the Milkman and Other Poems (Truth Serum Press). Forthcoming is In the Muddle of the Night, co-written with Betsy Mars (to be published by Arroyo Seco Press).

In Service to the People
by Mary Camarillo

After my grandfathers served in WWI, they took the Railway Post Office (RPO) exam. RPO clerks were considered postal service elites at the time. They were a close-knit group. That’s how my parents met—their fathers worked together.

The RPO manual required clerks to “possess more than ordinary intelligence, have a retentive memory and be sound in wind and limb.” My grandfathers knew all the rail junctions, the specific local delivery details and were able to ready a 50-pound mail pouch, stand in an open doorway just before the train passed the station at 70 miles per hour, grab the incoming pouch off a crane, and kick the outbound pouch off to the ground (and hopefully not underneath the train wheels).

My father rode with my grandfather on a few trips and decided he did not want to work for the post office. I wasn’t expecting to either, but when a friend took the exam, I tagged along. When I got hired, I planned to work a few months, save some money, and quit. I stayed for many reasons—five weeks’ vacation, 10 paid holidays, health benefits, the retirement package–but mostly because of the camaraderie of a close-knit group of people working towards a common goal.

Postal employees (my grandfathers, Charles Bukowski, John Prine, my husband, countless friends) miss Christmas celebrations, get bitten by dogs, and lose sleep working graveyard because they are committed to getting the mail out despite snow, rain, heat and now Covid-19, and a new postmaster general intent on cutting service.

The Postal Service mission is to “bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people.” The RPO handbook called this responsibility “a sacred duty.” I can think of nothing more sacred than binding our nation together in these fractured times.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: The Postal Service is in my DNA. I had a long career with the service, and I find the recent changes in service standards alarming. There is a longer version of this essay on my website.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: These are photographs of my grandfathers, who were both Railway Post Office clerks. Their names are Hubert Adrian Parker (right) and McDonald Wilson Brice (left), both deceased.

Camarillo Photo3 headshot

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mary Camarillo’s first novel will be published by She Writes Press in June of 2021. She is currently working on a novel told in linked stories. Her prose and poetry have appeared in publications such as The Sonoran Review, Lunch Ticket, and The Ear. She lives in Huntington Beach, California, with her husband who plays ukulele and their terrorist cat Riley who has his own Instagram account @marycamel13. Visit her at MaryCamarillo.com to read more of her work.

Author’s photo taken at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony.

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Gabriel
             Patron Saint of Postal Workers
by Marjorie Maddox

Behold, I bring you tidings
of new stamps, of short-haired
schnauzers with sharp teeth,
forecasts of sleet, extra city blocks,
rain the size of Dobermans to dog-and-cat down.
And you will All-Hail the hail of Hades,
snow will suction your Slim-Fast hips,
humidity will hug your lips
till you swallow its hunger.

But lo, I am with you alway
with good digestion and balance,
parkas equipped for the fickleness
of weather, light sweaters for global warming,
blessings against shin splints and blisters.
And you will have long memory
for zip codes, broad smiles for strangers,
birth announcements and love letters in your arms.
O, messenger of mercy and joy,
even unto the end
of your blessed earthly career.

Previously published in Christianity and Literature.

IMAGE: Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation by Fra Angelico.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Raised in the Protestant tradition, I grew up knowing very little about the Catholic saints. As I became more and more liturgical, I was both surprised and intrigued to learn there was a patron saint for just about everyone: hairdressers, pawn shop owners, funeral directors, baseball fans—the list seemed endless. Eventually my interest and research turned into a long series of poems, which became a section of my book Weeknights at the Cathedral .  “Gabriel: Patron Saint of Postal Workers” is part of that collection. Little did we know that “pandemics” would be added to “snow, sleet, and hail” as hurdles.

Marjorie Maddox 2019 author photo with TTT jpg copy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Winner of America Magazine’s 2019 Foley Poetry Prize and Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lock Haven University, Marjorie Maddox has published 11 collections of poetry—including Transplant, Transport, Transubstantiation (Yellowglen Prize); True, False, None of the Above (Illumination Book Award Medalist); Local News from Someplace Else; Perpendicular As I (Sandstone Book Award)—the story collection What She Was Saying (Fomite Press); four children’s and YA books—including  Inside Out: Poems on Writing and Readiing Poems with Insider Exercises (Finalist Children’s Educational Category 2020 International Book Awards), A Crossing of Zebras: Animal Packs in Poetry ; Rules of the Game: Baseball Poems; and I’m Feeling Blue, Too!, Common Wealth: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (co-editor); Presence (assistant editor); and 600+ stories, essays, and poems in journals and anthologies. Her book Begin with a Question is forthcoming from Paraclete Press in 2021. Visit her at marjoriemaddox.com and on Twitter

Roberts1

At Our Local Family Fare’s Guest Care Counter
by Jeannie E. Roberts

The pandemic may have altered our way of life,
still, there’s familiarity inside our local grocery store.
Even with mask wear, we smile,

extend the light of kindness.
Today, USPS Frog Forever® Stamps are on my list.
As I stand in line, I admire how the guest care clerk,

Christena, works and interacts with poise.
“Hi, how’s your day going?” I say,
then ask for my beloved croakers.

Muffled chuckles rise from beneath the clerk’s mask.
My enthusiastic request for frogs
must have struck her funny bone. I laugh, too.

Next, I walk toward the greeting card section,
where I take my time selecting birthday, anniversary,
and thinking of you sentiments.

I can’t imagine an existence
without the United States Postal Service.
Its beginnings date back to 1775

when Benjamin Franklin became the first postmaster general.
For years, my brother worked at the South1st Street post office
in downtown Minneapolis.

People depend on postal jobs for their livelihood.
Determined, I head back to the counter,
buy two more sheets of postage,

including the USPS Women Vote Forever® Stamps.
Once again, I thank Christena for her frontline dedication
as I envision Joe and Kamala

by my side
with the same fondness for amphibians
and the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

PHOTO: Christena Hill, Family Fare Guest Care Counter Clerk/Customer Service Manager, and the author holding her USPS Frog Forever® Stamps (August 22, 2020, Family Fare Supermarket, Chippewa Falls, Lake Wissota, Wisconsin).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Running errands can be a respite during these uncertain times. Except for walks and other outdoor activities, I haven’t been out of the house much, so when I drive to our local grocery store it’s a liberating experience. Team member interactions are enjoyable, especially at the guest care counter. Recently, I had a delightful social exchange with the customer service manager, as she “womaned” the counter. It’s tough wearing a mask all day—it’s hot and burdensome. Our frontline workers are treasures and continue to make our lives better as we navigate through the pandemic.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jeannie E. Roberts is an artist, a poet, photographer, former educator, computer software trainer and documentation writer, arts administrator, fashion and marketing executive, talent agent, copywriter, on-air/voice talent, print and runway model (plus-size, 10-14), and, most importantly, a mom. Originally from Minneapolis, she lives in an inspiring setting near Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. She has authored six books, including The Wingspan of Things (Dancing Girl Press, 2017), Romp and Ceremony (Finishing Line Press, 2017), Beyond Bulrush (Lit Fest Press, 2015), and Nature of it All (Finishing Line Press, 2013). She is also the author and illustrator of Rhyme the Roost! A Collection of Poems and Paintings for Children (Daffydowndilly Press, an imprint of Kelsay Books, 2019) and Let’s Make Faces!, a children’s book dedicated to her son (author-published, 2009). Her work appears in print and online in North American and international journals and anthologies. She holds a B.S. in secondary education, M.A. in arts and cultural management, and is poetry editor of the online literary magazine Halfway Down the Stairs

DHARNI 2
Behind the Iron Bars
by Vandita Dharni

Every morning I wake up to a familiar clattering sound. It’s the sanitation worker with the black mask. I wince—he always arrives a tad early to collect the garbage.

I flinch at the iron bars that distance me from the macrocosm as I watch him, and yet I don’t, vanishing into its folds. Then in a fleeting second, he reappears, offering biscuits to a black stray dog that eyes them hungrily—well, so do the ravens that perch on a tree above him every day. I know why he does this, for black is always lucky. The garbage van trundles towards the B-2 block where the road forks near the containment zone of our sector. The containment and non-containment zones are distinguished by yellow and black bags used for waste disposal, later transported to a compost yard in Sector 38. Pending electricity bills and crumpled clothes peer at me while I pour a cup of black coffee that has been brewing with my musings.

I often peer into the black bag he carries from a neighbour’s yard each day—the same vegetable peels, crunched paper balls, and household trash. I hear him instructing co-workers about safety guidelines and black bags that must be handpicked from collection bins and yellow bags which contain biomedical waste that needs to be segregated.

Our area has now reported twenty positive cases. The fences frown with boards restricting entry. He also collects trash from these locations. A week later, I notice him coughing incessantly. The iron bars of my heart bleed into ink that reads: “Two sanitation workers in the yellow bag area have tested positive.” My black coffee brews with thoughts whether black is still lucky or not.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: There has been an escalation of Covid-19 cases in the city of Chandigarh, with the toll rising to 1092 active cases, according to today’s statistics. Twenty-two cases in my sector have been reported so far, and no fresh cases have been detected for a few days. We adhere to the norms of social distancing and venture out only if it’s really necessary. During these challenging times, I have been confined to my home most of the time and do my work online. A lot of people who provide us with essential services have impacted me, and one such worker is Charanjeet. ¶ This particular sanitation worker has always been very positive and does his duty with a smile. He picks up refuse every day without fail, as do the other sanitation workers in Chandigarh. His family lives with him in Derrabassi, a tiny village on the outskirts of Chandigarh, and he has to support them financially. India is a progressive, yet poverty-stricken country, and Charanjeet is making both ends meet to give his family a respectable life. He had a bout of viral fever recently, but thankfully it was not Covid-19, and is he is back on his feet now, which is a relief for all of us who really salute front-line workers such as him.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Charanjeet’s photograph was clicked outside my gate by me and is used by permission.

DHARNI 1

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Vandita Dharni is an acclaimed poet, scholar and, a gold medalist from the University of Allahabad, India. She has a Ph.D.  degree in American Literature from the same university. Her articles, poems, and stories have been published in many journals, including Criterion, Ruminations, GNOSIS, HellBound Publishing House, as well as International magazines such as Immagine, Poessia, Synchronised Chaos, Poleart Albani, Sipay, Fasihi, and Guido Gozzano. Her books include The Oyster of Love,  Rippling Overtures, and Quintessential Outpourings, and she is the proud recipient of the Poetic Galaxy Award 2018, the World Poetic Star Award 2019, and the Rabindranath Tagore Award 2020. Her work recently appeared in Our Poetry Archive.