Inquiry: The 1930’s Downstream, a poetic inquiry


by LJ Frank

A bread line

black and white photograph

alone on a dresser without clothes

in an empty clapboard house

the genes of a forgotten past

a period in history filled with hurt,

the forlorn captured

in Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.


The wind howled across the fields

a dustbowl shattered lives

tattered garments covering


of humans in used trucks and cars

as they made their way west;

“Damn fat rich bastard” an Okie shouted

as the banker took his land.


Protectionism was the password

a Republican Congress

Hawley Smoot Tariff narcissism

made law earlier

but it was just a symptom not a cause

isolationism and protectionism

was the viral disease

as the rich got richer

and the poor sought relief

a sign alongside the road read:

”This is your country

don’t let the big men take it away

From You!”


“This is the breadbasket of the world

but we’re starving,” an old man moaned

his suit coat worn through at the elbows

two days without food and tears in his eyes

sitting on the curb of a city street.


The polarized became increasingly angry

fighting amongst each other

power resided in those who controlled

the debt

for the common man was the pawn,

even when the child cried, “mommy it hurts,’

the other’s point of view seethed and spit

though empty inside

where the darkness dwells,

and the love of God was missing

in the middle of a cold night,

“Stranger these are tough times

and don’t I know it,” a weary faced man finally stated.


“We never saw it coming but we should’ve

it was staring at us in the face,”

said a woman whose silk stockings

were decorated with holes.


“I’ve been through hard times,

but not like what’s coming”

and Woody kept singing

…”the hard working folks have done something

that the bosses, his sons, his wives,

his whores and his daughters have failed to do…

they sang their way through the whole dirty mess.”*


And the crowds of men and women out of work

walked passed stores vacant of affordable goods

ghostly haunted banks money withdrawn,

and those with wealth lurked in the shadows

while those without felt the ache on their backs.


And oil was spread over hogs and other beasts

shot and dumped into rivers along with food,

“Best not to feed the hungry and lose money,”

the owners stated,

while too many children of Man were admonished

for simply asking: Why?


The downstream of a generation lost

under the rubric

the beginnings of the scripture of prosperity

while the Social Gospel was speeding into the past,

and loathing and hurtful words were repeated

civility loss

“why should I pay a preacher

to make me feel guilty,

when I can do that all by myself

without charge,” was a familiar echo,

to purposefully change thinking

means to rewrite the past

so as to comply with the now

and still people followed like sheep

it was too much to think about

besides the trains ran on time

at least for the politicians.


*from Woody Guthrie, A Self-Portrait (an exceptional work)