In Harness

A poem by Lola Ridge


The foreman's head
slowly circling...
White rims
under yellow disks of eyes....
Gold hairs
starting out of a blond scowl...
Hovering... disappearing... recurring...
the foreman's head.

Droning of power-machines...
droning of girl with adenoids...
Arms flapping with a fin-like motion
under sun burning down through a sky-light like a glass lid.
Light skating on the rims of wheels...
boring in gimlet points.
Needles flickering
fierce white threads of light
fine as a wasp's sting.
Light in sweat-drops brighter than eyes
and calico-pallid faces
and bodies throwing off smells -
and the air a bloated presence pressing on the walls
and the silence a compressed scream.

Allons enfants de la patrie -
Electric... piercing... shrill as a fife
the voice of a little Russian
breaks out of the shivered circle.
Another voice rises... another and another
leaps like flame to flame.
And life - surging, clamorous, swarming like a rabble
crazily fluttering ragged petticoats -
comes rushing back into torpid eyes
like suddenly yielded gates.

The girl with adenoids
rocks on her hams.
A torrent of song
strains at her throat,
gurgles, rushes, gouges her blocked pipes.
Her feet beat a wild tattoo -
head flung back and pelvis lifting
to the white body of the sun.
Mates now, these two -
goddess and god....

Only the power machines drone
with metallic docility
under the flaxen head of the foreman
poised like an amazed gull.


little French merchant men
with pointed beards
and fat American merchant men
without any beards
drive to a feast of buttered squabs.
The band... accoutered and neatly caparisoned...
plays the Marseillaise....
And I think of a wild stallion... newly caught...
flanks yet taut and nostrils spread
to the smell of a racing mare,
hitched to a grocer's cart.

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