Social Justice Poetry

Roy Pullam

Wanda | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

Your control
Ran cool and deep
As you spoke
To power
They wanted you
To scrap and bow
As others
Of your skin
Color did
How they
Resented your opinions
That turned
Their necks red
But emptied your spleen
Words
Black men
Swung for
Years before
But words
A free
Black woman
Confirmed by right
Stiffened in resolve
By injustice
You would not accept
I smiled
At your courage
How hot the truth
The unexpected scald
That helped them
Find their place

Labor History | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

It is more than a job
His son’s shoes
The roof over his family’s head
The food in their stomachs
The future
Now all uncertainty
Added to the cold
On the picket line
A sign
Proclaiming the unfairness
The slow walk
In front
Of the gate
The only warmth
The wood fire
In a fifty gallon barrel
The inequality of power
A Fortune Five Hundred corporation
Committed to break the union
Strikebreakers ready
To snatch a job
To work for less
Police their loyalty
To property over principle
But he will wait
Sacrificing with the hope
Of security
It is the story
Of labor
The patience
The long suffering
With the hope
His march
Around the walls
Of capital
Will bring the walls down

Mac | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

His orange Studebaker
Pulled up
To our house
Mac, my father’s friend
Struggled to get out
Gripping the steering wheel
Pulling his thin body
To the running board
His body twisted right
Broken beyond repair
In a mining accident
His left side
Ratcheted forward
His steps labored
He took the hose
From the coil
On the ground
Placing it
In the fifty-gallon barrel
One of six
In the bed
Of the truck
His well
Without a bottom
Blown out
By the explosions
In the nearby strip mines
I stood by Mac
Holding the grass sack
Full of Purex
Bleach bottles
Jugs I had gathered
At the dump
Jugs he would pay
A nickel for
Jugs he would fill
With the moonshine
He made on the hill
Behind his house
Mac always came
With gumdrops
With chocolate drops
With licorice
He bartered for the water
Mother was not happy
But Dad knew
Without the liquor sales
Mac would starve
They caught Mac
Destroyed his still
Locked him up
Five years
The judge lecturing Mac
For his sin
Of selling whiskey
In a dry county
And at the end
Of his work day
The judge
Had a highball
With friends
At the VFW
Rules are for poor people
Like Mac
The rich
Find their exceptions
The space
Between the laws

December 1954 | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

The wind penetrated my jacket
I hunched my back
Exposing as little
As I could
To the elements
The road was muddy
The gravel spun away
By the numerous cars
That travelled my street
I had no gloves
How ironic
That the cold
Burned my hands
Like scalding water
The mile
To Broadway school
Would be cold
The mist
Like smoke
Escaped with every breath
I watched my feet
Avoiding the puddles
Hopscotching my way
Up the road
We didn’t talk much
It was
As if the weather
Had frozen words
In our mouths
I longed
For a heavier coat
Cap and gloves
Like others had
But they
Were on the list
Of things
We couldn’t afford
A ride
Would be nice
But others
Their heads bowed
Walked with us
Across the tracks
The tracks
That separated the poor
From others
Whose parents
Owned cars
Children with parkas
Warm mittens
Oatmeal
In their stomaches
Often envy
Made me ashamed
Of where and how
I lived
But I told no one
For fear
It would find
Its way
To my mother’s ears
Adding guilt
To the burden
She already carried

A Nation in Shame | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

When unknown truths
Tumble from their hiding places
The ugly knowledge
That feet of clay
Crumble before our eyes
And idols
Fall from their lofty places
Fact falls into quicksand
And all we know
Retreats to doubt
When the brain
Divides into poles
Of disgust
And yet we still feel love
Two feelings
We juggle
Trying to hold both
Reputation erodes
So easy to forget
The good men do
In the face
Of their failings
And we are reminded
Of what a miserable time
We live in

At the Wall | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

The wall stands somber
On that windy morning
Gales blowing rain
Into my face
I look at the names
Finding a school chum
A poor boy
His fate sealed
By lack of opportunity
Not unlike
Other 1A card carriers
Unable to afford college
To find a doctor
Who would shield them
From the draft
He believed
Willing to wear
The green
To fight in a land
Beyond his knowledge
One day in America
Experiencing the good life
The next
Landing in a strange world
A land of constant
Uncertainty
Four months
Of wading paddies
Four months of ambushes
Intense firefights
Then the pajama-clad phantoms
Disappeared
A land mine
In a clearing
A fatal step
And his life ended
Not the homecoming
We wished for him
But we gathered
Just the same
To hear the minister
Searching for an answer
Then sharing memories
Good times
With the boy
We knew
I took the paper
Placing it
Against the wall
Dragging the pencil
Across the paper
His name rising
On the page
Bold letters
I have read
Over and over
Remembering each time
The futility of Vietnam

Dying in a Small Town | A Social Justice Poem by Roy Pullam

It is not my home
Though the place
Of my birth
So many changes
Mines closed
Stores shuttered
A cancer of neglect
Running through
The community
Children gone
A city
Without a voice
Without a future
I see the signs
Of decay
A hole
Where the high school
Once stood
The yells of cheerleaders
All dried up
Aged out
The bulldog mascot
Without a bark
School colors
Justly black
With little gold
I see
Such poor promise
For a town
On life support
And something in me
Wants to cry