Bird for Tony: Quitting the Job at the Fish Lure Factory in Providence, RI

There was this backstreet somewhere in Providence
and a factory there then where local girls
assembled fish lures at a wooden slab of window seat.
I did too, dreaming silver to ring my fingers
and watching sunlight defy the breath of space
between the stretch of brick walls and shift hours.

These days when my knuckles swell and redden,
like an old arthritic memory in the joint,
I try to recall how it was done: the routine
hook to feathered parts, hand to press, the crank
and quick flip of clips into the inspector's pile,
Tony measuring my mistakes twice the size
of the other girls' accomplishments.

The other girls chattered through break time
about Soaps and True Confessions, the dying art
of making-out at the last of the drive-in movies
out on the highway, living it up Saturday night,
boys who made in from Newport. They lined up
at break time for a blast of Marlboro country.

I turned over mistakes to find a good one missed.
Tony watched the clock, chopped a minute off my five.
I didn't know the rules then, slipped out of the shop
into high noon when he caught me by my sleeve,
said he'd give me better wages than the rest,
if I'd come back under-the-table.

It was then he brushed his stubbled jaw against my cheek,
said it again, in a voice the way I never heard
a man's before so low and have too many times since.
He said he always wanted a smart little bird to train.
I flexed my aching fingers, stuck out the middle one to him,
turned and climbed the stony hill ahead, laid down
in a shadetree dream, becoming big as afternoon itself
and vast as the possibility of a bird winging sky.

:: Andrena Zawinski, Traveling in Reflected Light (1996)

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