End of Shift

At the end of our last training shift, we ride
the elevator from production
to packing. The flashing orange light lapping
our four new faces, the skin
free of the factory’s traces—the grimace
the older guys carry in a glance.
Only our words seem capable of aging us,
we curse until we recognize our fathers.
The loudest one asks me,

“If you could fuck any chick here
Who would it be?”

and I see the question for what it really is: training.
Crafting the response will take the same
muscular precision I’ve practiced all day,
my ability to stop and clean the machinery
without losing a finger. I think of saying
that no one here is worth a look, that I’m here
for the money not the women. I consider
the easier answers, a list of blondes,
so that the guys can tell whether I’m a tits or legs
kind of man.

I think, briefly, of trapping them with the truth
in the elevator’s cage. Telling them in our own
blunt tongue what kind of tail I’d rather be chasing—
my desire for something broader than the most
storied blonde in the building. Like daring their own
wayward glances in the locker-room
with a harder stare in this orange blink of light—

but today we learned about Quality Assurance.
That daily art of remaking expectation, each of us
contributing our work and devotion—
the guy from corporate said we put ourselves into

the product. So I shrug, and offer
the most unlikely name
for a joke at an ugly woman’s expense. I am not myself,
but I pass the test.

:: Kevin Shaw, in Still Blue: More Writing by (for or about) Working-Class Queers

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