SEPTEMBER 15, 2011 7:05PM

Mulligan Stew (for Tom Cordle)

Rate: 16 Flag

Hobo jungles are springing up again
Off the interstate, near the old freight yards
Where homeless people gather together
When there’s nowhere else left to go

 Bivouac tents and tar papered shacks
Huddled together for the safety in numbers
Once the last addresses of drunkards and madmen
Now host families of husbands and wives and children

The old man in the tattered boondocks cap
Crouches over his evening fires
Minding his batches of mulligan stew
As they simmered in recycled gallon sized tomato sauce cans

“Potatoes, beans, squash, turnips, carrots, celery and onions
In a broth made from beef bullion, flour and butter;
We call it mulligan stew but there’s no meat in it.
Poverty eventually makes everyone vegetarian.”

He stirs his tomato can pots in strict succession
With a handmade long-handled spoon
Carved from the heart wood of his wife’s rose bush
After she died from the emphysema.

“I was a civil engineer, if you can believe that,
Before my company folded up in one night
And we lost our health plan coverage
So the bills just did us in but things worked out.”

“We get the wood from broken shipping pallets,”
He said, as he fed the pine slats into the fires.
“The wood’s no good for anything else,
So we might as well use it to cook with.”

The wind catches the crowns of the trees
A  few brown leaves come trickling down;
We watch them falling into the fire and rising again
As they catch fire and burn like so many fire flies.

 Sparks rise, sparks fall, and rise again
The trees whisper, the leaves fall
The fires crackle as the winds find us
No one says anything but we all know: winter is coming.

He looks me straight in the eye over the flames
“Yes, indeed.  Things worked out for the best
Because she died before they foreclosed on us
So I never had to bring her to a place like this.”

 He waves his long-handled spoon like a baton:
“We’ve got all kinds here, engineers, clergymen,
School teachers, carpenters and construction workers,
Roofers, masons, brick layers, and business executives.” 

The evening’s darkness was closing in
People were moving around in the shadows
Some coming, some going, some waiting around
There were eyes in the shadows, ears in the gloom.

“For some people this is just a way station,
But, for others, this is their final destination.
We take them in, show them the ropes and
 Those who can leave while the others stay behind"

He passes me a soup can with some stew in it
And it is quite good: the vegetables blending together
In a sauce that says peppers, curry, vinegar and salt
With some noodles and things that I hope are raisins

“Everyone puts in what they can when they can and
No matter how many show up, there’s always enough
And that’s always what surprises me more than anything else
 Because, you see, I used to be a self-reliance Republican.”

“And, now, if you don’t mind, you have to move on,”
He said, cocking his head toward the road I came in on.
“Dinner’s ready but no one else will come in from the dark
 As long as there are strangers hanging around here.”

I felt a tightness in my throat when I said,
“But what about you?  Are you staying or going?”
He pointed to his cans of Mulligan stew and said:
“I’m not going anywhere when there’s food on the fire.”

I climbed back up into the bulldozer’s cab
Fired up that big old Cummins diesel engine
Lowered the scraper down into position
And drove through the camp, as instructed.

 The hobo jungles are springing up again
In the empty places where only homeless people go
To sleep in bivouac tents and tar papered shacks
Huddled together in an illusion of safety

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You see the pictures during the Great depression, and think, no, it can never happen again. Who says is can't happen again, and worse, can you imagine the weapons out there now. Good work Sage!
I didn't copy and paste... but... I remember my father telling me about living in hobo jungles when he was a young man and you have captured his tellings of those days in a very modern sense.
I am speechless and I know why too. It's the poetic you...
Forever and day, this reality might be here to stay
pull up a seat by the fire...The stew tastes better that way....
When he was a small boy, my dad and his family lived near the railroad tracks in our town. Usually once a day, in concert, men would come to my grandmother's porch and she would feed them: stews, leftovers, fresh baked bread and an occasional pie or rhubarb sauce. They had to stay on the porch, but my dad and his brothers had to be sure that they had enough to eat and drink. Evidently, after hearing one of the neighbor kids say something about the men being "down and out bums" and "tramps" Grandma Ellie spent considerable time ensuring that her kids knew that they could be anybody's brother, uncle, cousin or dad...and she noted that they were noble souls travelling to find their fortune. Ellie referred to these men as "knights of the road." I've always loved that phrase. Your raw poetic writing is a clarion call for justice and truth that sheds a light on history and its repetition. Your writing never disappoints, Tom. With Many thanks for this and all...R
You must have had trouble figuring out which name to post this under. Poetry or political post? Somehow, you managed an unusually good job at both simultaneously. My hat's off to you.
"Poverty eventually makes everyone vegetarian.” That is great. You have echoes of Woody Guthrie here. And the truth comes out shining.
Great piece.
This sent chills afire in me. You are such a good poet. Every time you write one it is excellent and you really got me good with this one. So sad.
Steinbeckesque, and that's high praise in my book. As for this:

"He said, cocking his head toward the road I came in on"

I presume that was a nod to the old dismissive verbal slap "fuck you and the horse you rode in on". That seems to be the core philosophy of the Teapartians.
I wrote this piece - longhand - sitting in an office where I was supposed to be getting trained to sell cash advances to merchants, at a 25% interest rate. Couldn't tolerate the rap, Jack. I can't do that. More specifically, I can't stand being disconnected from my computer. I am addicted. This piece was specifically instigated by news coverage of a single tent city Where there is one, there are more but tent cities don't advertise, except by word of mouth. Then Tom Cordle actually challenged me to write poem about mulligan stew after I wrote a poem based on Michele Bachnan's comment about giving mulligans in politics. That reminded me of an old Robert Heinlein story - Citizen of the Galaxy, I think it was - in which a hobo scene appeared.

It is intersting to trace the antecedents of a story or poem. Okay, I think it is interesting. Does anyone have any idea wht MrsRaptor's comment meant?
I think Mrs. Raptor might have been saying she 'didn't copy and paste... the particular phrases that moved her into the comment' - that's how I read it.

You certainly were up to the challenge - I can see myself in one of these places, which is truly nightmarish, yet the sense of brotherhood that was conveyed by your telling of the place and time is oddly comforting. The tractor driver, not so much. How Republican!
"Illusion of safety"
Great work, Sage.
We thought it could never happen again but it has.
I 'direct linked' to this page. R
Glad to see comments continuing long enough I only have to comment as "a day late; a [?!*]) short"; not two or more. ;-)

I'm 'specially with Kosh's comment to start with. Special thanks, Sage/Alan [or whichever sequence you prefer ;-)] for this special commitment of yours and the work you put into it -- "prose vs. poetry".

As to the issues themselves, I'm afraid I'm suffering "generation gap". Not because of any substantial differences between my "memories of" and impressions of the socalled (*) Great Depression from any posted here nor even the effect of writers (especially Hemingway [ little as I seem so wholeheartedly to revere his works in toto as it still puzzles me so many do]).

I'm (I think/hope) "with" all of you on all those counts.

But as to doubt, speculation, incredulity (etc.) it could "happen again" and/or ... um ... "maybe is" happening again?

Why so speculative? Why so incredulous? Maybe Mark Twain had the grace to pen that history perhaps didn't repeat itself; only "rhymed". But isn't discussing all of this in (linguistically speaking) "the conditional mode" like climate change deniers?

Hope to see more on all of this;

Thanks, all!

(*) My ?'carp"? there is that I'm not the child of the socalled "Greatest Generation"; I'm its _sibling_. I loved all my family members involved in WWII as well as those involved in WWI. [The "Great War"] but I knew them as human individuals. And now we have all the local politics knee-jerk usages "this great nation" not to say the casual "have a great day". Couldn't there be some grand worldwide distribution of a New Thesaurus?? :-( ;-)
Oops; sorry everyone. Gotta get to work on my own blog and stop being so longwinded on other people's!! As to the double asterisk, the first one has to do with all the money/economy discussions; the second was the one I explained.

I am starting to review poems for publication, but I really will miss not reading the comments in response to the poems.
I am starting to review poems for publication, but I really will miss not reading the comments in response to the poems.
I must have seen you come ... and am glad I did ...

When ... should ... this come to us and those we love ...
may we have at least the handmade long-handled spoon ...
and may this maker of Mulligan Stew be there waiting ...