Portrait of Nelson Peery
With a small stick he worked the grains of wheat
out of the cracks between the rotten boards
of the boxcar floor flying through the Depression
and built a little mountain of them in his palm,
which he’d carry in his pocket
down to the twilight hobo jungle to share.
But as if from inside his guts in that rattling,
old snake of a train, those grains would burst into
ideas about how to make it so’s a man would
never have to earn his meal on his knees
in this king-hating country, a generation before
a prophet turned up named King.
Now we’re all together whether we like it or not.
The snake’s even snakier; you can crawl or
flop down in the corner of the car, do whatever
you can get away with in this thing hurtling through
space. But half a hundred years later, a piece of
something to eat can still work up an appetite for Revolution.
Editors note: As a young man during the Depression, Nelson Peery and millions of others rode the rails West looking for work. What Nelson experienced, including the description of Hunger in this poem, is a powerful story from a great revolutionary’s life.