Two Weeks Notice

Soon the bolt will appear.
I hang on a ladder up the side
of a barge, through still
moments of imminent rain,

regarding the foreshortened image
rippling in oily water below;
my face, diffused as twenty years
gone, with more stories and less time.

Already my clothes bear the mark:
company paint splotches, riddled
jacket from molten showers, torn
pants with permanent dirt

and the dull metal toe showing
through the workboot—impressions
after the yard’s swapped your best
years for fatigue and hangover.

The face dissolves in the wash
of a tug casting off, straining
on its springlines, the crew
inscrutable in their departure.

That roving gull, perched on the
shop roof, is the weathervane
of our fortunes here—hire and layoff,
by the season or the contract.

I haven’t overstayed yet.
My hands are still strong, intact,
able to enfold hers tightly, as when
we lay under changing windowlight,

or later, moored in drowsiness, our
dreams glimmering like riding lights
seen through a swell, then like grids
of distant cities . . .

The bolt noses through, and my
indentured hand grasps the wrench,
the hex nut as we refit this scow,
send it back to the unseen ocean,

from which tugs are towing home
the night. Two years there’s been
the job to curse, to lean on,
to joke about, to finish.

The work outlasts me. Soon I
will finish, but restless boots
will cover the wharves,
the ship decks.

:: David Conn, in Going for Coffee (1981)

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