As a planner in local public health in rural Michigan, I see unmet individual and family needs multiplying, while limited resources are divided among the many. We are used to hardship and deprivation in rural America, and here in Houghton County, Michigan, times have been tough since the copper mines closed in 1968.
In one sense, here in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, we always have hard times. We are far from the state's centers of industry, commerce and political power, a nine-hour drive from Detroit, and the capital, Lansing, up north on the shore of Lake Superior. Our population, school enrollments, tax revenues and employment all have declined gradually since the copper mining industry left in 1968 after a prolonged strike over wages and working conditions. Now, much of the economy depends on tourism and the low-wage jobs in hotels, restaurants, bars and retail,sectors which have been very slow during the last few years.
In the local public health sector, many of our programs and services are income-dependent, like nutrition programs and free immunizations for low-income children and families. Our caseloads are skyrocketing as people lose jobs or have to make do on part-time wages. But, conversely, state and federal funding is reduced, and within our agency, so we have had to reduce our nursing staff and salaries were cut by 6 to 10 percent.
HOW HAS THE GREAT RECESSION EXPERIENCE AFFECTED YOUR POETRY?
My own depression obeys no season, it is chronic and everlasting. It ebbs with the tides, it waxes with the moon.
PLEASE SHARE A POEM(S) ADDRESSING YOUR GREAT RECESSION EXPERIENCE:
Occupied By Love
We are the 99 percent
who occupy the centers of commerce
and convention with no capital, save
our love-me-tender for illegal tender,
squatting in tents of passion,
bumming kisses, protesting the inequities –
I do protest too much — of love.
We invested our hearts’ savings
but the bubble collapsed,
leaving me alone in the shanty town
of my great depression, lining up
at the soup kitchen of despair
where loneliness is ladled into tin cups,
a thin and scalding broth.
If corporations are people
and loves are lives that are born and die,
we were downgraded to junk bond status
and pepper sprayed with stinging words
that left us red-eyed and wheezy.
I gave you 99 percent of my heart,
more than I could afford, and still
we ended up bankrupt.
ABOUT THE POET:
Ray Sharp lives in the rural, rugged and remote Western Upper Peninsula region of Michigan, a land of deep snow, cold lakes and buggy summers. He enjoys running in the woods during the brief Michigan Upper Peninsula summers, and many of his poem ideas come from his treks in nature. His first book of poems, Dark Hills of Just-Lived Moments, to be published in 2012, is a lyrical journey through the seasons.