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Ode to the Muskrat, On the Passing of the Mantis)


by Fayette Jones-Ziegler

c 2009












Along the banks of the River Raisin
as it flows into Lake Erie's wet,
stand twin towers of the future
blinking as a lightning set
across the waters, so that sailors
out upon that shallow sea
on warm summer nights await the thunder
the flashing would portend there'd be.
South of Fermi's citadels
rising o'er medieval cries of fear,
stand two sentinel smokestacks,
but different from those of other years;
and they, too, set their flashing
out across the flatland country
stretching toward the sunset haze.
On the west shore of Lake Erie
where the Raisin marsh did unfold,
among the lotus and the white crane,
another story yet is told
-- not the tale of Colonel Custer
who was a Braddock of the west,
nor of the Raisin Massacre,
nor of where Custer's horse is laid to rest,
nor of the founding of the Frenchtown,
later called for President Monroe,
nor of U of M's, or accounts
of the state's first capital.
For this was a workers' town --
a town of hardworking common men
as much as it was anyone's --
and this is a tale of them.
The paper mills set their smokestacks
and furnaces were the trade;
in times even before furniture
and shock-absorbers were made.
Workers, farmers, grinding out
the wealth that made our land;
surely the product of entrepreneurial zest,
but equally of their hand.
"Don't walk out! Sit down! Sit down!"
-- the cry of two score years and ten
-- in the dark days of the thirties,
when they organized GM.
They fought the battle of the Overpass
and in Flint they yelled "Sit down!;"
deputies ran in Minnesota;
and in Toledo, workers ran the town.
In those days this was a different town;
lying different now is the land;
it was here in thirty-seven
that the workers made their stand.

The Telegraph Office

For as long as anyone can remember,
a railroad track ran through town
passed the Evening News and main street
from the mill and further down.
And just across from old Dorsch Library
to a small storefront set aside
the now forsaken Sears and Roebuck,
the wires of the world were tied.
A train was passing slowly eastward
along First Street one new spring day
at early morning, as the manager
of the Postal Telegraph made his way
alongside the freight cars to the doorway
of the office. The paper in his hand
was filled with stories of the sit-downs
breaking out across the land.
Two weeks before, first at Dodge Main
and then eight other Chrysler plants
around the Motor City, workers
had locked themselves inside to chant:
"Don't walk out! Sit down! Sit down!;"
seeking just to have the right
to decent wages and safe standards
and a union to represent their plight.
And in the weeks before that fire
had spread across the assembly lines,
three dozen other Detroit factories
had set upon the same design
that had won the union Fisher Body
-- at Flint, GM was organized --
and now cigar workers -- even Woolworths --
were sitting down organized.
On the front page were the photos
of workers holding signs that read
"Injunctions won't build automobiles:"
"We're here to stay," the banners said.
And flying underneath Old Glory,
the Union had draped other signs:
"Give us liberty or give us death," and
"Scabs and rats won't run this line."
In just two months, two hundred thousand
would end a march at Cadillac Square
in a rally for the right to strike
and unionize -- they gathered there.
And three days later at the Rouge Plant,
vowing they would never pass,
henchmen met the organizers
and bloodied them at the overpass.
But now a large black man was waiting
just outside the office door
and entered in behind Carl Ziegler,
as the rain outside began to pour.

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