An American Mosaic

An American Mosaic: Prose and Poetry by Everyday Folk is an anthology of writings developed in the first nine years of Free River Press writing workshops. Published in 1999 by Oxford University Press, the collection contains prose and poetry of the homeless, short essays and stories by Midwestern and Mississppi Delta farm families, by small town residents of vanishing rural America, and by men who make their living on the Mississippi River: a towboat captain, a river pilot, a commercial fisherman.

Inspired by America Today, Thomas Hart Benton’s 1932 panorama of the United States, An American Mosaic is an exploration of contemporary America that unites the stories of working men and women through interpretive essays by the book’s editor, Robert Wolf.

Studs Terkel wrote that “Bob Wolf’s approach to oral history is unique . . . His work is more than a lament, it is a battle cry.”

As a reviewer for Kirkus Reviews wrote: “Wolf hears America singing by recording poems and essays by the homeless, farmers, commune inhabitants, and residents of small river towns, the most common and least represented
element in our urban, urbane culture. What weaves these pieces together is a sense of sadness and nostalgia because a way of life is disappearing.”

Excerpts from An American Mosaic

from: DRESSED IN DOUBT
by Robert Roberg

I the pilgrim dressed in doubt
set out one morning to see God
and I didn;t se' him in any of the
rich new churches where the people
dress like movie stars
nor in the dusty tomb-cold cathedrals
(the last place he'd be seen in)
nor in the womb-warm roll-in-the-aisle joints
I didn't see him in the trees at Mission Park
I didn't see him in the green sky
or blue grass
nor in the faces of babies
or the laughter of children
I saw God in a night ally
behind a Chinese restaurant
digging thru the trash
with wild hungry flaming eyes
and wondrously crippled hands.

from: THRESHING
by Richard Sandry

When you are ten years old and can be along with the men on the threshing crew, it can make you feel pretty grown up. The threshing ring then consisted of about twelve neighboring farmers. Sometime in July when the oats fields were all a golden yellow, it was time to cut and shock the grain. The grain binder was brought out from its year of rest in the machine shed and was pulled by five strong horses, or in later years by a tractor. The fields then turned from yellow to a shade of green as the oats were cut, tied in small bundles, and deposited in rows on the ground by the binder. usually this was done on some of the hottest days of the summer.

from: THE DAY THE WELSH FAMILY FARM TURNED AROUND
By Bill Welsh

As we arrived at Pat’s, the first thing I saw was one cow lying dead. As I walked into the lot where the cows were, one of my favorite cows took after me and chased me over the fence. I remember thinking, what in the world is wrong with her! She was always such a gentle animal. Then we noticed three more dead cows piled on top of one another in the corner of the fence and the others running, as hard as they could, around the lot. Soon the vet arrived and he immediately said, “They are being poisoned by something.”

from: THE MIDNIGHT WATCH CHANGE
By Captain Jack Libby

"Cap’n Jack! Rise and shine, it’s towboatin’ time! Midnight!”

What a nightmare, I thought. Hadn’t I just lain down? Already?” I slowly replied, realizing that my night’s sleep had only been two hours long.

“I reckon,” drawled Bright Eyes. “We’re comin down on lock twelve. Cap’n George got on in Dubuque. Cap’n Mike missed his flight to Cape Giradeau. He’ll rent a car and drive to St. Louis. Regular suitcase parade.”

My mind slowly tried to analyze what had happened during my six hours off watch as Bright Eyes rattled on.

“We finally got them other three loaded barges we picked up wired in. Couldn’t get them squared up too good, though. Hope you don’t care. Took far ever. I’ll try to get it out down to the lock.”

“Okay,” I muttered. he better get them square, I thought, otherwise the boat will sit cockeyed and act as a two hundred foot long rudder, constantly steering us the wrong direction all the way down the river. "


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