A Labor Day tale of three cities: Pittsburgh, Birmingham and New Orleans

Published on Intrepid Report, by Phil Rockstroh, September 8, 2011.

As Hurricane Irene made her way up the Eastern Seaboard, my wife and I packed a few changes of clothes and trundled westward out of her path to spend the storm’s duration in Pittsburgh, PA.

The excursion did us some good, in particular, leaving insular Manhattan, and facing the faded, crumbling Industrial Age grandeur of Pittsburgh. Walking, once again, among the plaintive rasps of the ghosts of the devastated laboring class (the social setting of our youth) provided us with a humanizing contrast to our present day circumstances stranded amid the manic chattering of the preening demons of banal self-regard possessing Manhattan careerists. 

Nowadays, the island of Manhattan is tediously bright and shiny—a sterile, oligarchic controlled dystopia. Accordingly, any sign of redemptive decay and hint of shabby ass human glory has been banished by official caveat and collective collusion.

In contrast, while in Pittsburgh, because I was born in a steel and coal town, Birmingham, Alabama, I shuffled among familiar shades. Deep in my being, I know the social setup—once manifested in forged steel, living flesh and human longing—now lost to the ravages of time (more accurately, the consequences of neo-liberal economic doctrine) … //

… One must not, and this is a habitual misstep of the contemporary left, approach politics, personality and place as a strictly intellectual exercise—as a thought experiment that will yield to logic. If the swamp of the human psyche were that simple to negotiate, then life would be a dry, blood-bereft trudge indeed.

And yet, how the world wounds us; at times, delivering an aching sorrow that one will always carry. But rejoice in your wounded condition … for the open wound harbors a mouth to kiss … a womb from which to be perennially reborn. As Octavio Paz testifies, Love is a wound, an injury … Yes, love is a flower of blood.

As far as the struggle to be included in the present political narrative, we, on the left, remain marginalized to the point of near invisibility. But don’t lose heart: The problem is the solution. Apropos, empire carries the seeds of its own demise. Therefore, in the shadow of the house of cards economy, now tottering over the ruins and detritus of the nation’s shuttered factories, foreclosed upon farms, and abandoned mills, one should go about the business of working on what will replace the hollow and decayed system when it collapses from within.

Accordingly, Rainer Maria Rilke (also on fr.wikipedia) averred (paraphrasing) everyone has a letter written within and if you refuse the life your heart wants to live, you don’t get to read this letter before you die. An individual must risk the world, with all its attendant woundings, or he risks having a dead letter office piling up lost correspondence from his neglected heart. (full long text).

(Phil Rockstroh is a poet, lyricist and philosopher bard living in New York City. He may be contacted here. Visit Phil’s website and his Facebook page).

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