Union Songs

The Tree

A poem by Mal Ness©Mal Ness

All those years through the cycle of life
It stood, not alone, for it were surrounded
By Man and his creations
It knew industrial strife.
A seed in the ground in the year fourteen
It reached up and looked down
Maybe understood what it had seen.
Some no doubt loved the tree
Most just passed beneath
To duty one way the other to be free
They knew though on the Monday
That something was wrong
Something was different
The tree was gone.
In memory then they saw the tree
And wondered why,
Somehow like missing the water
When the well was dry.
It had vanished completely
As if by some giant sleight of hand
Not a twig or a leaf
Just a scar on the land
With gnarled trunk, twisted limb
Still very much alive
Irony was it had to go
At the age of sixty-five.
"It must go, now." they said, "it's in the way"
So in the great name of progress
The tree had to pay.


Many thanks to Jim Sharp for sending this poem to be added to the Union Songs collection.

Jim writes:
I read Mal Ness's own poem at his graveside a year or so ago. One has always felt this poem should reach wider working class audience. When it was written in the mid 1970s it was posted in every department at Moreton Meatworks where it was widely and eagerly read [and read to those who couldn't read by a comrade] and owned by those Borthwicks meatworkers who generally didn't read poetry. Yet they felt our working class alienation thru it (but then, Borthwicks comrades had a militant tradition). Mal and I shared the same lunch table and friendship for over four decades we both yearned for the social continuum, Mal through the ballot box and me, a prolie dictatorship where social rights rules over boozh-wah property. When the tree was felled, Mal was able to use its felling as a metaphor about our orking class useful working life 14 to 65 to the boozh-wah-zie. We both agreed 65 was a good time in the then life expectancy to retire and yet to what? Sit around the tele for days and years on end, coz we knew that poverty wasn't just monetary. Around that moment in time, a woman comrade aged 60 had just been forced to retire throwing her into financial disarray. This and the tree felling are part and parcel of Mal's class rage expressed in "The Tree" we both knew that workers needed to be wanted and yet selling our labour power and losing our individuality alienated our psyche, neither of use had read Marx's alienation then and yet intuitively I feel it comes out loud and clear in his poem.

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