A LABOR column is not a place where a reader expects to find poetry. Nevertheless, I'm quoting a little bit of it today because I've just read the works of the winners of the area's first Labor in Literature Contest and most of it is very fine.
Many people, no doubt, may be surprised that a Teamster may spend his dull hours on the road mentally creating poetry, or that, besides delivering weekly magazines and the Book of the Month, their steady mailman is writing his own verses.
A member of Nurses United, William Coyle, shows a wonderful talent, a special tenderness and an awareness of the pain and courage of the dying in five poems that won the $100 first prize for poetry:
"3 a.m. Silence has descended upon the floor like a death angel, pacing in search of hosts. Occasionally, the stillness is pierced by the cardiac alarm, a high squeal proclaiming danger -- someone's heart has taken off like a race horse, or is falling like an indifferent schoolboy. The thud of nurse shoes pounds the silence . . ."
Coyle's poem, "Angel" which sharply sketches in a few lines the agony of Carolyn, a dying cancer patient "determined to lure that angel, who lumbers on, slashing its way to her rescue."
Michael J. McDonald, a member of the National Association of Letter Carriers, writes about the Post Office in a poem of that name, which won second prize:
"Morning shattered, time clock waiting,
7 a.m. begins the day.
Trays of mail stacked five high,
Letters and papers strewn about,
9 a.m. comes too soon.
Route up -- punch out -- hit the street --
Park the Jeep, then tote the bag,
Our postal patrons await their due.
Forget the ice, the rain, the sun,
The beasts that hide 'round thorny bush,
Just move the mail from house to house,
Greetings friendly, words exchanged.
Past 3 p.m., . . . the bag is empty,
The trays are clean,
The frantic stops, the trip back easy,
The mailman fades, postage paid."
John L. Ventola, a member of Teamsters Local 558, writes about the agony and exhaustion of driving a truck for a living in "Talking to Dante:"
"Dante Alighieri, I also know something about Hell. It smells of diesel fumes . . .
In "Over the Road," Ventola, the third-place winner in poetry, continues the theme:
I'm chasing a broken white line,
westward, into a dusty sun that sits on the pavement,
soon to be swallowed by the road,
consumed like myself . . .
The poem concludes, poignantly, "there's a sign that tells me: 'Denver is ten miles ahead, and you're a million miles from home."
In the prose category, the judges, who included two union officials, showed boldness in awarding first prize to a short story about a fellow union officer who violates his code of ethics to mislead his members into approving an inferior labor contract.
The $100 prize was won by Edna Pelonero, a member of Local 650 of the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees, for "An Honest Rep."
Second place was won by Robert Wieszcholek of Local 774 of the United Auto Workers for his grim story, "Firecat." Mary Richert of New York State United Teachers' Local 3124, took third place for "Uncles on the Niagara Frontier."
Thomas M. Beatty, business representative for Local 200-C of the Service Employees Union, received an honorable mention for his incisive story, "Liberation of Number 4029."
The contest was the brainchild of long-time labor activist and playwright Emanuel Fried. He convinced the Just Buffalo Literary Center and the Buffalo AFL-CIO Labor Council to sponsor it and it has become an annual event.
Its purpose, according to the organizers, "is to bring the life experience of labor into literature so that union members can enhance their own self-image and others will have increased knowledge and respect for America's rank and file."
The winning works will be published in Arts in Buffalo. They also have been sent to various local union newspapers in the hope those publication will include some of the work among their notices.
A reading of the pieces is scheduled April 6 in the Steelworkers' Local 593 Hall, 425 Military Road.