People We Love

Daisy Pitkin

Daisy will be reading at the Sonora Review Community Connection Summer Reading, which is happening at Plush on Wednesday, July 13.  She will be joined by poets Joshua Marie Wilkinson and Jamison Crabtree, who will be featured on this blog June 30th and July 7th, respectively.

Daisy grew up in rural Ohio with her three brothers.  She earned a BA in Political Science from Macalester College, and for the last 10 years, she worked as a rebel rouser, campaign director, contract negotiator, and campaign writer supporting the organizing efforts of garment and industrial laundry workers around the world.  She will earn an MFA in creative writing from the University of Arizona in 2012 where she mainly writes nonfiction.

Currently, she is working on two writing projects.  In the first, she engages a kind of emotional and familial cartography to delineate the distances that now exist between members of my once tightknit family caused by age, time, war, and changing political and moral values.  One essay from this project, “An Algorithm,” is a series of 4 vignettes, each based on pencil rubbings my younger brother did of objects on his military base in Afghanistan (the sole of his boot, a water bottle, part of a Humvee, a bullet).  The vignettes experiment with mathematical theories as a way to measure (and fail to measure) the distances between her brother and her.  Here is an excerpt from that work:

Incompleteness Theorem: For any formal effectively generated theory T including basic arithmetical truths and also certain truths about formal provability, T includes a statement of its own consistency if and only if T is inconsistent. (Godel)

Axiom: In 1925, Max Ernst, artist and radical anti-war activist, was inspired by an ancient wooden floor where the grain of the planks had been accentuated by many years of scrubbing. The patterns of the graining suggested strange images to him. He captured these by laying sheets of paper on the floor and then rubbing over them with a soft pencil. The results suggest mysterious forests peopled with bird-like creatures… These drawings were published in a 1926 collection titled Histoire Naturelle.
– Tate Gallery and Sotheby Parke-Bernet, London 1981


If this is your boot, then your hand touched this piece of paper.
If your hand touched the paper, then you made this rubbing.
If you made the rubbing, then your hand might still grip, your arm might still move.
If your hand grips and your arm moves, then you are alive.

You said you need odd and secret tasks to complete so that you can remember who you are.  I sent you a stack of paper and two pencils and a magazine-collaged letter like a ransom note.  I also sent you leaves and pine needles from up on the mountain.  When the package was in the mail, I thought damn it I should have sent a book or something baked or a song we used to sing transcribed for the harmonica.  When I get the rubbings back from you, Afghan soil crumbles out of the envelope and into my hand.  It’s a lot like the caliche of Tucson, but grayer.  The back side of the boot rubbing is streaked with it, as if you’d made the image by grinding your toe into the paper over a graphite plane.  I was expecting an undisturbed surface, but the tread of the boot has left a deep impression in the paper.  I’m taken aback by how much of the image is missing – its starkness – and by the time I’ve pulled it out of the envelop and am holding it with both hands, my mind has already filled in the parts that are missing.

In the second project, she addresses her decade-long experience of working within the U.S. labor movement, mainly organizing in industrial laundry facilities.  She’s interested in exploring the ways that organizing labor and the work that goes on in laundry factories mimics the action of collecting and display (like taxonomy), and they ways that collecting and display are related to power.  Her goal is to push the language of this project into both lyric and polemic spaces (since the experience, for me, was in many ways both), to find a way that it may embody the two voices simultaneously. I’m also experimenting a lot with form, its relationship to the lyrical voice, and its role in creating meaning for content.  Here’s an excerpt from one piece of this projected entitled, “Clean:”

Every time we touch a piece of cloth belonging to a hospital, every time we rest our elbows on a cloth table covering or touch a cloth napkin to our lips in a restaurant, and almost every time we press our faces into a pillow or dry our
bodies with a bath towel at a hotel, we come indirectly into contact with a group of workers somewhere nearby – across the state, on the other side of town, down the street – who sorted, washed, dried, ironed, folded, packed, and
delivered that piece of cotton and rayon to the place where we are touching it. This process, this work, takes human time and human energy. These people work long hours, on their feet, with their hands, operating heavy machinery,
pushing and pulling bags and carts, racing to reach unattainable production rates that keep getting higher. They work in a factory that, according to OSHA statistics on worker deaths and serious injuries is more unsafe than a
mine shaft or an oil rig. They bring home minimum wage if they are not members of a union or a little more if they are. If they are non-union, they likely have no health insurance, no pension plan, no health and safety equipment, and they won’t ever get a raise.

I’ve been to the hospital three times in the last two months. Each time, I required a heavy dose of morphine in order to withstand the passing of small stones through my kidneys. As the nurses pushed the drug into my arm, my face got heavy, my head started to float, and my body shivered with cold. Each time, I would ask the nurse for another blanket and another blanket and another blanket, and each nurse would pull the blankets from a metal cabinet in the corner of the curtain enclosed stall where my metal rolling bed stood. One by one as I asked for them, the nurse would shake the thin blankets open in the air space above me and let them flutter down to my body. With each
landing, I thought of you, Argelia, and Jesus, and Ceci, and Benita, and Monica. UMC is one of the hospitals that contracts linen service from your laundry. You likely touched these blankets that are piled on top of me, these sheets, this gown, this pillow case.

In the future, Daisy wants to to write, wants to teach, and wants to find a way to bring the world of labor organization and the literary community closer together.  She is also working on a few visual art projects – a sculptural book and two videos – that deal with the same questions that drive her writing.

8 thoughts on “People We Love

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  5. Love the parallels in your writing. At Lakeside dock, remembering you. Noah in Afghanistan? Glad to see you maintaining a progressive, liberal stance. Karla says hi.

    • At some point during junior high school (8th grade, maybe?) my best friend and I went to a Browns game. We had stayed up the entire night before painting a sheet: “We love Vinnie Testavrde.” This was at the height of the Kosar/Testaverde war. Our banner made it onto the local news but only because of the misspelling. This is the extent of my knowledge on the subject.

      • This was a few years later Daisy.. Maybe I tried to be too creative here? It has been a while but I wanted to reach out to say hello. I hope all has been well in life and their adventures?

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