The Compassion Flower

                      Heart, Home, & Hard Hats by Sue Doro,

                      published by Midwest Villages & Voices, 1986

 

          if I have any taste

          it is only because I have interested myself

          in what was slain in the sun

                                  “Kingfishers”, Charles Olson

 

          How does a poet, instead of taking the critical distance of “interesting oneself,” write while being immersed in “what was slain”?  I don't have an answer though I see it as a necessary question to raise. And I know where to look for help for an answer—these poems by Sue Doro. Doro writes from a position of being involved at all levels, a way of writing Olson saw himself doing, something simply called commitment. It is also the best one word description of Doro's poetry. It is committed because she refuses to deny herself the multitude of ways she as a human being is engaged with the world. In short, her poetry is political, but it is also engaged in the play of language for she sees that humor is a necessary part of survival not a substitute [like the academic use of irony] for avoiding the struggle. Here is a poem concerned with language and the act of writing poetry that manages to “smile” even though it is written out of necessity in spite of the body's exhaustion:

 

          Poem Too Tired for a Title

          tired

          as a

          crumpled

          lunch bag

          home

          after work

          the factory's

          sting

          in my ears

          i try

          smooth

          myself

          out

          flatten

          my wrinkles

          and snap

          myself

          back into

          life

 

          Sue Doro is a machine operator and knows how to make us see the modern jazz of machines.  This has been done by other poets who celebrate the machine from a safe distance—the Italian Futurists and William Carlos Williams the obvious examples. But Doro writes not from a safe distance, she writes from the danger of intimate knowledge, and such difference is crucial since hers is a poetry that proclaims her stance, what makes her a person, inseparable from the poetry itself.  That she can see through the tedium and hear and record the music illustrates more than poetic achievement, it is a moral victory. 

          Doro’s poems are almost exclusively poems of people, poems of community real, unrealized, wished for.  The strongest poem in the collection is “The Father Poem”.  It is about the destruction of familial relationship through the constant dehumanizing of working in America. It’s a much more relevant poem than that favorite of teenage girls, Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy”. Reading this poem allows you to understand why Margaret Randall, Nat Hentoff, Meridel Le Sueur have all praised her poetry, why Antler says hers is “a noble humanist feminist rallying cry to unite and inspire all workers everywhere to demand the greater freedom we deserve.”

 

          my father,

          dark gray,

          dusty factory father

          left with only one lung

          from filthy air,

          aching with rheumatism,

          from winter cold air

          blowing on a sweaty body,

          and sweltering and grasping

          for breath in the summer months.

          ...

          my father, dead,

          your body melting

          into the floor boards

          near a shoe box

          of assorted pills,

          an empty brandy bottle,

          and a bucket of spit

          lined with newspaper.

          your pain is finished now.

          ...

          were you always mean?

          or were there days

          that I never knew?

          old days, when you were the man

          my mother loved

          before you worked

          in a rich man's factory,

          ...

          and knew everyone,

          and always had enough to eat,

          ...

          and the neighbors who shared what

                      they had.

          the person my mother loved

          in that little wisconsin town,

          I'll never know,

          because you were stolen

          from my time of living

          by profit‑hungry factory owners,

          who must be dealt with,

          bosses who will be dealt with,

          so people like you

          won't have to die

          in little dusty rooms,

          alone, and never known

          by people like me

          who should rightly love

          and just as rightly

          fight side by side,

          not against people like you.

          ...

 

          Doro writes from a bitter knowledge, but it is also bittersweet, in other words, she writes from Love, because though she writes from pain she also writes from hope.

          I knew you

          by the meanness

          that the rich man drove you to.

 

          you taught me that.

          and now.

          I'm learning

          how to use that anger well

          against the ones

          that taught it best

          to you.