The Orange bears with soft friendly eyes
Who played with me when I was ten,
Christ, before I’d left home they’d had
Their paws smashed in the rolls, their backs
Seared by hot slag, their soft trusting
Bellies kicked in, their tongues ripped
Out, and I went down through the woods
To the smelly crick with Whitman
In the Haldeman-Julius edition,
And I just sat there worrying my thumbnail
Into the cover—What did he know about
Orange bears with their coats all stunk up with soft coal
And the National Guard coming over
From Wheeling to stand in front of the millgates
With drawn bayonets jeering at the strikers?

I remember you would put daisies
On the windowsill at night and in
The morning they’d be so covered with soot
You couldn’t tell what they were anymore.

A hell of a fat chance my orange bears had!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Kenneth Patchen's poem The Orange Bears

1 Comment

  1. Frank Siegle says:

    I think Patchen is using the image of a child’s toy animal as a metaphor for the steel mill worker of his childhood. It is the workers who have their bellies kicked in by the goons in hire to the mine owners, their hands smashed in the rolls, burnt by molten slag, many dying in the unsafe conditions. This was his experience growing up seeing the conditions of the mill worker of his youth, Men who came home in such a condition that it hard to get clean. Kids playing with their fathers, if the fathers could, were like the toys stunk up with soft coal.

    It’s a stark picture of the reality of those days in any steel mill town, such as Youngstown. They never did have a chance against the forces that created and sustained such conditions – until the struggle at last led to the legalization of the ability to organize and strike and bargain collectively.

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