Social Justice Poetry

Donal Mahoney

Capitalism and Human Nature Must Be Regulated | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

“What can we do to make this right?”

The speaker is Phil Burns, owner of the brokerage firm that Owen Mitchell has had money invested with for years. Owen’s not rich and not poor. He just prefers the action of the stock market to the passivity of fixed income.

Owen says nothing, sits in his chair opposite Phil’s desk and stares straight ahead.

Finally Phil says, “Owen, we’ll credit your account with the money Bernie stole and add the profits you would have made during the Trump run-up. What more can we do? We don’t want to lose you as a customer.”

Owen knows Phil is a decent man doing his best to make good on the problems caused by Bernie, a rogue broker, who stole from Owen’s account, figuring perhaps because of age Owen wouldn’t notice.

Owen noticed so he called Phil who had opened Owen’s account more than 30 years ago. That was before Phil bought the company. Many other people have managed Owen’s account since then without any problems until Bernie took it over.

Phil called the cops and fired Bernie. After the criminal case is finalized, Phil plans to sue Bernie and give the proceeds to Owen. A very decent thing to do.

Owen won’t lose a cent once he and the firm figure out how much was stolen and how much he would have earned on the Trump run-up. Now Phil is trying to convince Owen not to move his money to another firm. He knows Owen won’t sue him or the company. They’ve been friends too long.

“Phil, I thank you for making the money right but I’m going to another company,” Owen tells him. “I bear Bernie no ill will.

“I know this sounds strange but I forgave Bernie long ago. I have found that forgiving is easy; it’s the forgetting that’s hard to do.”

Phil has a problem with Owen’s explanation.

“Owen, what’s with the forgiving and the forgetting? We’re going to make you whole, add another 10 percent for being so decent about this and want to keep you as a customer.”

“Phil, if I don’t leave you now, every month when I get your statement I’ll fly into a rage—not at Bernie, who will probably be in jail, but over all that has happened.

“I have learned over the years when someone bothers me I don’t forget simply because I can forgive. I do nothing to get even. But being reminded of what happened is like bad indigestion. And they have no proton pump inhibitors for that.

“Capitalism has many problems and always will because people run capitalism and people have problems and always will. Problems are in the DNA of both.

“Human nature and capitalism both suffer from an autoimmune disease. No cause, no cure, and at times the disease flares up without explanation.

“Phil, I have an autoimmune disease few people have heard of—myasthenia gravis. Even when I take my meds, every few years it flies into high gear.

“Double vision. Not easy to eat. I can’t talk. I sound like Bugs Bunny.

“My doc says double the meds and in a couple of weeks it comes under control. But as with human nature and capitalism, it’s always a threat to flare up and cause more problems in the future.

After a little more conversation, Phil says he understands but he really doesn’t.

Before parting, Phil apologizes in advance about the taxes Owen will have to pay on the profits by moving his account. If Owen will let him know the amount of the taxes involved, Phil says the company will pay that as well.

“Phil, it’s not the money involved because I will lose nothing,” Owen says. “But if you find out some way I can forget this ever happened, give me a call.”

Phil says he will and then says he agrees that capitalism like human nature suffers from an autoimmune disease.

“No cause, no cure, for either. They both must be regulated. Not easy to do.”

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A Man of No Words | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

Virgil comes to group therapy every week in his pick-up truck with his dog, Buster, standing in the bed of the truck. The sessions are held for veterans of Korea and Vietnam. Quite a few veterans in this small town because not many males applied for deferments back then to go to college. Money for college wasn’t available and this is, after all, a farming community. In one way or another people here earn their living from the fertile land.

This week as usual Virgil gets out of his truck, flicks a cigarette away and goes in the center. He leaves Buster as usual standing untethered in the back of the truck. Not many Dalmatians around here but Virgil got him somewhere as a pup and for the last six years Buster has been coming with him to therapy once a week.

People in town think Buster is the best-behaved dog they have ever seen. He remains standing in the back of the truck in driving rain, heavy snow and even while a squirrel or two cavort tantalizingly on the ground nearby. The dog seems oblivious to distractions while he waits for Virgil to return.

Other vets in the group feel sorry for the dog in bad weather but talking to Virgil about anything doesn’t work. Over the years he has never sought nor offered comments or advice. He is a man of no words.

Every week on therapy day Virgil enters the therapy room before the session starts, looks around like he’s casing the place for interlopers, turns around and walks out. Then he goes into another room and basically repeats the performance.

In that room are women waiting to begin group therapy for domestic abuse. Virgil gives them the creeps, they admit, but he leaves the room as quickly as he comes in. He has never said nor done anything untoward.

His next stop is the table in the hallway where his best friend, Mr. Coffee, waits. He likes his black with lots of sugar.

Next Virgil heads for the room where some men play pool before therapy starts. Over in the corner there’s always a serious game of poker in progress.

Neither the pool players nor the card players look at Virgil anymore. He sips his coffee, looks around the room carefully, turns and leaves.

When the staff serves lunch, Virgil goes to the dining room, leans against the wall and watches the people eat. He has never sat down to eat.

Folks new at the center have complained about him and have been told by the regulars that Virgil is harmless but not quite right since he came back from Vietnam. It helps when they mention that he was All-State in football for the local high school before Vietnam but that was a long time ago. He didn’t go to college when he came back although a football scholarship was waiting for him.

Virgil steps outside the center every now and then, has a cigarette, sometimes two, and says hello to his dog. Then he comes back and watches the pool players again, mostly old-timers who are veterans from Korea. They don’t know Virgil was a pool shark of sorts but that was before Vietnam. Although he was in high school at the time, he used to beat many of the men. He hasn’t played pool since Vietnam.

In fact, Virgil hasn’t done much of anything since coming back except come to group therapy once a week.

During therapy, he sits in his chair for an hour, says nothing and looks around. Any time a new person is introduced he’s obviously concerned.

In the past, a few Korean vets have tried to engage Virgil in conversation but he says nothing but his name, rank and serial number. The men mean well but they came back from Korea where there was no Agent Orange. Monsanto and Dow did not provide any spray in Korea. Korea was bad for many reasons but it had nothing to do with Agent Orange, which still echoes today in veterans all over America and in the people of Vietnam.

The Vietnam vets don’t bother Virgil. They just advise any well-meaning vet from Korea to let Virgil be Virgil. If they want to help him, they suggest they make certain Mr. Coffee is ready when Virgil arrives. He asks for nothing more.

Every veteran in the group has his own coffee mug with his name on it.

Virgil’s mug has no name—just a big navel orange.

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A Bit of News Not Fake | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

An article in the paper reports
something one doesn’t see
happen in America very often.

Eighty billionaires, millionaires
and others close to that level
in New York have written to

their lawmakers and governor
asking to have their taxes raised.
They want to support schools,

build roads and bridges, and help
the poor and the homeless.
The president of the United States

is a resident of New York.
Eighty names on the list so far.
At press time his was missing.

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A Conservative Shouts No! | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

Bill’s a conservative
upset that Meals on Wheels
and Medicaid face possible
cuts in America’s budget.

He yells to colleagues
who also have money that
we shouldn’t mess with
elderly folks who depend
on one good meal a day and
shouldn’t say no to the poor
when they need a doctor.

Making these cuts won’t make
America Great Again.
Making these cuts will make
America sadly inhumane.
Let’s break some day-old bread
with the old and poor and
revise that budget again.

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Children Are Why We Need Higher Taxes | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

Steven is a retired teacher disturbed by the problems he sees in education. Schools weren’t perfect when he was teaching but they were better than they are today. He has ideas for improvements.

Some of his ideas are new and some have been around awhile. It’s hard to disagree with them. The problem is, they will cost money and that money will have to come from higher taxes. He thinks if we can spend billions on defense, we can afford to spend millions on education. Children’s minds are more important, he says, than missiles and bombs.

The reform of public education begins with getting more parents involved in it. Studies in the Amana colonies in Iowa show high performing students result in part from the support of parents. Involved parents are needed more than ever. Twitter and Facebook, appealing as they are to students, won’t teach them the important things about life they need to know.

In Steven’s community, there’s a noticeable lack of parental involvement. Parents will flood a cheerleader tryout but won’t attend a back-to-school event after their children are beyond third grade. Teachers try everything to get them to attend and nothing works. It’s always the same, relatively small group of parents who come.

I was surprised to hear him say students must learn their multiplication tables and long division by fourth grade. I assumed most students managed to do that. Apparently not. Many teachers say students won’t do the homework necessary to learn these basic skills.

He also says a pleasure reading time is needed in elementary schools. This would help build reading skills and make reading an avocation. Students need to read something besides what’s on their cell phones.

The first three grades, he says, should be dedicated to reading, writing and arithmetic. Again, I had assumed that was the case. Not so. Too many children today become adults without being able to read and do basic math. Being able to write a coherent email can be a challenge for some. Shortcuts used on Twitter aren’t a big help.

Calculators should be banned until the end of the fourth grade, he says. I didn’t know children were using them in grammar school. Eons ago I never saw one in grammar school or high school. You had to do the math in your mind.

Students must also be taught to spell. Too many of them can’t do that now. Reading a lot and seeing words frequently would help them learn to spell, my friend says.

I remember spelling bees when I was in grammar school. Boys would stand on one side of the room and girls on the other. By and large the girls were the better spellers. But for me and two other boys, there was competition to be the last boy standing. And sometimes one of us would win. We learned to spell and had a lot of fun.

It’s wrong, my friend says, to allow software on grammar school computers that corrects grammar and spelling. Grammar checks and spell checks do the work for them and students lose an opportunity to learn.

Civics and American History also need to be emphasized. He remembers having a student in the 9th grade ask him who had the Nazis fought in the Civil War.

He also recommends that teachers be given supplies to give out to students who need them. Poor students don’t have the money to buy supplies and teachers have to provide them. Too many have to do so out or their own pocket.

Executives in private industry go to lunch and charge it to their employers. Teachers don’t do that. So why not give them access to the supplies their students need.

My friend knows higher taxes will be needed to do this but says more children will graduate and be prepared to find a good job or further their education. And they in turn will become taxpayers.

Another of his recommendations would also involve higher taxes. Students should be allowed to eat breakfast at school if they arrive hungry. At some schools this is currently the case. It’s important, he says, because too many students don’t eat breakfast at home.

Poverty is often the reason but sometimes it’s two parents leaving early for work. They assume their children will eat a good breakfast. Not always the case.

It would also help to stop criticizing teachers, Steven says, most of whom do their best to instruct students. Students who come from difficult home environments aren’t easy to teach.

Some teachers are the most caring adults in the lives of children. They need public support and the money required to get the job done.

Everything Steven suggests is based on common sense. The problem is, most of his suggestions require that you and I pay higher taxes not only to educate children but to feed those who come to school hungry.

Since we have to pay taxes for public education, why not pay a little more to do the job right.

You and I won’t go broke and we won’t go hungry and we’ll still be able to buy a car when we need one.

Parents of poor students can’t do that.

When someone must live paycheck to paycheck, it’s difficult when the paycheck isn’t big enough. And that is still too often the case in the United States of America.

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Bully for Him | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

If he were in high school
they’d call him a bully
and take him to

the principal’s office
for counseling.
But he’s an adult

who believes life
should be the way
he says it should be.

When you run into him
at the coffee shop
he’s quick to tell you

why you’re wrong.
You listen to him
and politely say

that may be so
but you don’t know
and quietly walk away

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A Piece of Fruit Every Morning | A Social Justice Poem by Donal Mahoney

This morning Len sections his breakfast orange
with the knife he bought in Paris 40 years ago
on his honeymoon. He bought it from a vendor

at a street market selling every kind of knife,
beautiful creations he said he made at home.
Len no longer has that wife but he uses

the knife every morning to cut up his fruit
of the day. It might be a grapefruit, apple,
a melon in season but usually an orange.

Len never thinks about his first wife
but he remembers the blind beggar
sitting on a mat near the stand

pleading for a coin to buy bread
for breakfast as Len and his knife
rushed past to catch up with his wife.

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