Lisa Beatman's Manufacturing America
So, the other day, as I was reading Lisa Beatman’s Manufacturing America: Poems from the Factory Floor, I was struck by how apropos my reading this book was at that very moment. In one sense, Manufacturing America could almost be regarded as a reflection of this country’s current economic situation… many Americans, fallen from the middle class, are now employed in the same positions two or three generations back that their own great-/grandparents, who, if they were immigrants, also may have occupied. Many of these poems could be the stories of those in the present day, who have been forced to “start over,” and reach again for that piece of the American Dream.
Irony aside, most of Beatman’s brutally honest narratives are well balanced with the forward looking inspiration an immigrant chooses to use as a driving force to propel them into a new country, a new situation. A good portion of the poems start out with the narrator looking backward, to where, as well as what circumstances, he/she fled from, whether it be a series of Russian Jews escaping the persecution of communism in the title poem “Manufacturing America,” or a Cambodian refugee escaping genocide in “What We Bring With Us.” But, Beatman does not stop there… life, in the form of a reality check, has a way of forcing a person to re-evaluate, and in some cases, to re-define their expectations to meet their ultimate goal, as many immigrants who come to a new country are inevitably forced to do, as in the poem “Claudine’s Deal:”
Deep in a drawer
stuffed in a sock
lies a small gold circlet, edges worn,
modest stone mirroring the dark.
Page 5 of the Safety
no rings, no dangling chains,
no flowing hair. C’est rien.
So many moving parts,
tired rubber belts, rusted plates,
a woman bending over
her work has much to lose.
Better to miss the faint
warmth of a man,
the cling of children,
than a reddened finger, a worn arm.
Minding the rules
leaves half a paycheck
stuffed in a sock,
week by week,
to fly home on a foreign
in the Haitian sun.
I would be lying if I said I enjoyed reading these poems... as well written as they are, they bring home the reality of my own situation; the job loss, the reduced income, the refining of my own expections to move forward... as well as that of many others like me. And this is why Manufaturing America is such a great book; because, in the end, anyone who reads Manufacturing America: Poems From the Factory Floor will ultimately realize this is “their” story… the story of falling down, having to begin again, and then, to journey to that place to reach beyond oneself to gain whatever goal that may be realized.
Manufacturing America: Poems From the Factory Floor, copyright 2008 Lisa Beatman, Ibbettson Street Press, 978-0-6151-8124-0, 61 pages, $14.95