This week in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Ida Börjel, translated from the Swedish by Jennifer Hayashida. 


sabotage is an internal, industrial 

The word is taken from the French sabot
wood clog, and the French mill workers’ 
manner of protesting against the new 
automatic looms by hurling 
their clogs into them. So they removed and 
aimed, took off their only pair of shoes and 
threw them into the machine’s opening and walked 
barefoot through nah

The word is taken from the Dutch
fourteen hundreds when impoverished workers
threw their clogs far into
the future because they had lost hope
for a better life for their children
or since they had just begun to hope for one*

The word is taken from the act, from
the verb saboter, stomp with clogs,
slap together, neglect. A
saboteur is someone who drags
their feet
The word is taken from the late
eighteen hundreds, from the French
slang sabot for someone with their head
in the clouds, all thumbs
and shitty shoes. So saboteur doesn’t really
rhyme with amateur which etymologically is
she who loves something.

The word — the shoes
thrown at an old circus lion during
the international peace conference
in Copenhagen and simultaneously in

*No longer would oppressed people be sure that history was on their side. No longer could they therefore be satisfied with creeping improvements, in the belief that these would see fruition in the lives of their children and grandchildren. No longer could they be persuaded to postpone present complaints in the name of a beneficent future. In short, the multiple producers of the capitalist world-economy had lost the main hidden stabilizer of the system, the optimism of the oppressed. —Immanuel Wallerstein



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