Driving to Work

Six of you cram into Hopko’s Mustang every Tuesday
into Hrishin’s Nova Thursday, into Bevsky’s Duster
Wednesday. Monday you ride a Pontiac
and Friday you drive the Olds, room
for all and lunch pails, three stacked in back
sleeping the hour drive 5:45 for the 7 a.m. shift
sleeping stacked that way the hour drive home at 3,

and every day you go the same route through Chunk
the edge of Dutch country on down the Lehigh River
through the gap until you reach the city on the other side
and see the smoke rise from your stacks, see the orange light
riding up the towers of your stacks, and every day you look behind
at 3:15 to see the smoke a little darker where you have stacked the coals.

:: Bim Angst, in Beloit Poetry Journal (No. 30, Summer 1980)


I Wake with the Taste of What You Tasted: Agnes Smedley, 1892-1950

The night before the operation you said
“I don’t expect to die . . . but in case I do . . .” And then you did.

I was tightly coiled, held safe when you came apart
of a piece in Oxford, 1950.

I want to say we are sisters. Yes.
I want to share a present tense with you. A name.

I want to say we are sisters as temperature and wind, loneliness
among friends. The lines of a poem that do not come.

Learning to survive. Staying or returning
to survive.

Your political predictions went on without you,
your stone letters in the hand of a Chinese peasant general.

Pushing yourself back into memory,
you stared us down by the power of your Colorado earth.

Now I wake with the taste of what you tasted
in my mouth.

Misery when the call comes in to join, mesh,
submerge and reemerge in groups of men. The flowers of defeat.

Need, your circular letters open doors
to those who put them, unopened, on the “maybe” pile.

I wonder about my journals, Agnes,
who will take my salted tongue.

What time is it, please? Will the new encyclopedia
hold the necessary entry?

Deep in pockets I shove my fisted hands,
clenched images. Yan’an or Esteli.

People who did not look darker or smaller to us.
People. Their eyes open.

The lie comes home to sleep. No one forgets.
It happened on the first day of all our dreams.

:: Margaret Randall, in Calling Home: Working Class Women’s Writings (1990)


Family Dollar

Click here to read Joan Murray's poem in the Winter 2007-08 issue of Ploughshares.


Field Trip to the Mill

Sister Monica has her hands full
timing the climb to the catwalk
so the fourth-graders are lined up
before the next heat is tapped, “and no
giggling no jostling, you monkeys!
So close to the edge!” She passes out
sourballs for bribes, not liking
the smile on the foreman’s face,
the way he pulls at his cap,
he’s not Catholic. Protestant madness,
these field trips, this hanging from catwalks
suspended over an open hearth.

Sister Monica understands Hell
to be like this. If overhead cranes clawing
their way through layers of dark air
grew leathery wings and flew screeching
at them, it wouldn’t surprise her.
And the three warning whistle blasts,
the blazing orange heat pouring out
liquid fire like Devil’s soup
doesn’t surprise her. She understands
Industry and Capital and Labor,
the Protestant trinity. That is why
she trembles here, the children clinging
to her as she watches them learn their future.

:: Patricia Dobler, Talking to Strangers (1986)



Wonder Bread builds strong bodies twelve ways

We toured the Wonder Bread factory
our blue and yellow scout uniforms jittering down
the drab aisles of hum and clang.

At the end of the line, we were allowed
our taste of Detroit's assembly-line communion.
Our first factory, and not our last.

The workers silent as we passed,
staring over our heads numb
with what they could not share.

In their own uniforms, bare of arrows
and awards, they disappeared into white bread.
When I got on the bus to go home

all I could think about was the smell
of warm bread emerging from giant ovens.
In the stores, the white loaves

covered in balloon-patterned plastic wrappers.
What were the twelve ways?
My friend stroked his cheek with a warm slice,

his eyes closed. Wouldn't it be great
to work here? he said. When we toured the Stroh's
Brewery years later, he said the same thing.

They offered no tours of auto plants
yet that was where we ended up, parking
our first cars in the enormous lined lots

fenced in, protected. Wouldn't it be
great if communion tasted like this?
Tony said. Or maybe I just thought it.

At home, my mother baked bread
on rare occasions, her misshapen
yeasty loaves waiting in the kitchen

after school. It tasted great
while warm, straight from the oven.
But it hardened quickly, the odd

shapes not practical for sandwiches,
and she made at least a dozen every night
for school and work lunches,

an assembly line of peanut butter
and jelly, bologna and mustard,
brown paper bags initialed

for morning sendoffs. That bakery
is now the Motor City Casino,
and that's what started this--

imagining slots and chips
where bread was once made.
The brewery's gone too, by the way,

by the way, by the way, way side.
We all take communion
in our own twisted way, and we all

pay the price. When it rains, it only
sometimes pours. A money factory, what
could be purer and sicker?

I'm driving my car past that grand old factory,
a building saved by greed,
a rare Detroit victory against rubble.

Twelve ways. I hold up my three fingers
to recite the old scout oath. I make the sign
of the cross and recite the two prayers

I remember. What I remember is
you weren't supposed to chew.
Just swallow and take it on faith.

:: Jim Daniels, in Green Mountains Review (18:2, 2005)


Dear Buck Fever

Bright and boldly born, the foal’s shiny
skin is slick when I touch it.
Hope surely dwells in the hollows
of her stick-thin legs, after all
it’s the prop, the pillar that holds
us up too. The drought left us
with one cut of hay last summer,
little to graze, now weedy alfalfa
gets eight dollars a bale
if you can find it.
Most everyone sold out,
and I hear the stockpilers
have taken to sleeping with shotguns
in their barns. Honestly, BF, it’s easier
to rob a bank than to steal hay.
Marietta wanted to take the foal to the lake
but I told her she’d be better off using a gun,
seeing how the lake’s almost gone.

:: Ron Paul Salutsky, in Asheville Poetry Review (15:1, 2008)



For years Bobbie drove the pickup truck to Morrisville
every day to sew the flys in men’s pajamas at a factory
down there. When you spoke to her about the job,
she’d blush and turn on her heel like a little girl.
She was good. The best one down there.
It was piecework and she was fast.
She quit the sewing when she and Doug went to farming.

Bobbie is beautiful, or could be.
Under thirty years of work and plainness you can see
her body, see her face,
those definite, delicate features
She strides like a doe.
In spite of two brown teeth
her smile is warm and liquid.

Last summer she cut off a finger in the baler,
paid her farmer’s dues.

Now she holds her missing finger behind her when she talks.
She’s got something new to blush for.

:: David Budbill, in Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life



electrodes in the salmons’
olfactory bulbs
when the olfactory epithelium
senses spawning ground

we all stink he says
picks up a plug
you after plastic fish?
you got the hook
all wrong he
bends the eagleclaw
off centre

it’s the smell he says
smokers get less fish
some people pick up a
spoon you may as well
toss it over
that’s how them salmon
make it all the way to
Japan & back
oil on your hands
more on some guys
than others

white guys
stink more than us

I always rub my bare
hands all over the first

gimme another beer and
I’ll rub my hands
all over your

:: Kevin Roberts, in Going for Coffee (1981)


Waking the Dozers

Wherever they are, tripping
and twitching on their morphine drips,
or laid out lax in a dayroom, I squeeze
their feet, sing out their names, fetch them,
Orpheus-like, back to the too-brilliant brim
of the world. There is,

of course, bewilderment. There are lines
and belts and their legs lifted twiglike
and swept out of bed. There ate their knees
blocked by my knees, the calibrated
leaning back, and the length of them
levered up to some brief, provisional

perpendicular. Let me see your eyes
I say then, and most, hummingbird-
hearted, do. And we rock a minute
on the linoleum while they reacquaint
themselves with the sheared apart and
strangely wired-back-together world

they’ve been, for the last while,
out of. It’s not fixed yet, they say;
put me back to bed. And I say it is fixed,
really. Let’s try some steps.

:: Timothy Kelly, Toccata & Fugue (Floating Bridge Press, 2005)


Dennis Martin

Click here to read Ed Meek's poem, "Dennis Martin," in the Stickman Review.


The Red Shoes

Pulling out government coupons for the first time
In a Krogers twelve blocks from her walk up
So the bagboys and cashiers and seniors
Browsing tabloids would all be strangers,
She’s slow motion through and past their stares.
She feels every nuance of her body
As a tense repressed trembling, a calculated
Conscious stepping, just as much a dance
Of desperation as that solo waltz
Around the brass pole in the gentleman’s club
She’d never do. Nothing said, but the gist
Of the story bared, Lonnie gone and the car
After missed payments, no degree, nurses aide
Not enough for even store brand soup,
And those looks from everyone contribute
To the scrutiny she’s already put herself under,
The wondering what’s become of her
Least dashed hope, like that man in the dominion
Of his cubicle at the welfare office
Teasing out the names of men who stayed
The night. She’s been made small. She’s been cut down
To size like that little girl with the red shoes
Told by the angel she’d dance for all
The vain children, dance through the moonlight
And the villages and the dark dreamy woods,
Who never stopped even when she stood begging
The executioner not to lop off her head,
Then letting him harvest her feet instead.
So she seasons her sauce with damp salt
From her own eyes and her back to her son
In his proud sneakers and best sullen thirteen
Because he won’t ever know she’s good
As dirt, a polite little clot of nothing
Waiting while that laughing bureaucrat
Carried on in front of her long and personal
On the phone. Approved was the word he used,
Meaning yes to those two sacks which would last
However long they must like the whole
Brutal fiction of grace, the executioner
Giving the girl crutches after the axe.

:: David Moolten, in Ploughshares (winter 2007-08)


A History

My father takes me to the basement
and shows me the jar of corn that was canned
during the Depression when he was five.
He tells me the day was hot in Floyd County,

and locusts sang from the pine-covered hills
while he carried wood for the stove and water
to boil the jars. The pile of shucks rose
on the porch, and Roosevelt spoke on the radio.

His mother, he says, was beautiful.
I nod my head yes.
I have seen the pictures.
I do not tell my father how the summer before

she died, Granny showed me the jar of corn,
showed me the scar across her palm she got
when the knife slipped. She had sent him to find
Pa-dad who drank the money from his alphabet job

and passed out in the coalhouse. She said
my father hugged her close, told her he loved her.
Then always this jar of corn,
too bitter to eat, too valuable to throw away.

:: Tim Skeen, Kentucky Swami (2001)


Texas Catheter

Becky asks me to please show her
how to do Jack’s catheter; she’ll help me catch up
by giving Lena her bed bath. Jack is sweet,
pretends the ring of gummy tape
peeled from his cock doesn’t hurt. His penis
looks so useless in my hand. I wrap
new tape around the base, avoid
the pubic hair. Becky rolls the condom
catheter on. I squeeze Jack’s cock, seal
the tape. Plug the plastic tube into the spout.
You’re all rigged up, I say. That wasn’t
so bad, Jack tells Becky. She blushes: No.

:: Ron Mohring, Beneficence (2003)


Two Pictures of My Grandparents: 1914


Her feet stitch the sidewalks
of the Garment District.
It is as grey
in those distant stories
as the shawls
of Middle European women.

Her fingers are thin,
polished bone spools.


The sun peers down on him
through coal-smoke clouds.
It squints like the Asian eye
of a Slovak steelworker.

His breath is hesitant
from burned lungs.
It whitens the throat
of the winter sky.


My Uncles do not recognize
their parents in these words.
The images are as strange to them
as that language they still remember
is to me, a tongue

which never gathered money
though it warmed them
as they shared it, the one fire
they could always afford.

:: Joseph Bruchac, Working Classics: Poems on Industrial Life


Sellers Motivated

For awhile the house
sagged on itself,
then new people
moved in
with teacups that chink
in a different key
from the teacups
that lived here before.

There is an innocent
pouring of coffee,
a holding themselves apart,
a surreptitious glance
into my garden
as though I grew
rare greens. How hard
will they struggle
to heal that house?
Or will the cat
they took in
rend the curtains
and rain pour over
the sills at last?

:: Mary Rose O’Reilly, in Ploughshares (winter 2007-08)


Working Until You Are Middle Age

doing what you dislike
every day wondering about your work
perhaps able to do what you think you want

at my typewriter i think of you
writing as i touch you the days never come
when we understand each other
meeting only to be content
we avoid other problems

you talk of cuba and women's rights
i complain of traveling in america
of the coffee and pistol in the back seat
of the car listening with your back

we question what is between us
literature that hides my walls behind books
and prints
the talking of people with different values

the country where you live is brown and bare
quiet enough for you to live
but the family you care about you think i will
question and dislike

your parents will enter another life
i ask you to rise out of yours
as i have left mine somewhere
in Cambridge thinking of you

: : Sam Cornish, Sam's World (1978)


Paying the Bills

Click here to read and download Amy Groshek's poem at Broadsided Press.


Off Lasqueti

for Thor Johnson

We clean fish
all day

200 coho
anonymous flesh
thumping into the hold
gulls and dog fish thrashing
astern for gills
like red dahlias
huge pink worms
of guts

blood seeps into

like mica fragments
on our faces
on our hands
as we eat

scrub the gutting box &
deck to break the slip
of the slime & black
dry blood

all this killing
like scales over
my eyes

he says you got to
think of it
as a harvest

I dream of spoons
like scythes
in the deep

:: Kevin Roberts, in Going for Coffee (1981)


Temporary Tattoo

Beside the cash register in my favorite used bookstore
I see a glass bowl of what seem to be postage stamps
until I look closer: temporary tattoos of red and green,

with ornate black lettering Bruised Apple Books.
Take one, says Andrew, Take two, as if he directs a film
about the struggle of an independent bookseller

and his aging clientele, some of them tattooed
in the Summer of Love, some of them tattooed
by surgery, or time. I take one

although I know a temporary tattoo
is oxymoronic, maybe just plain moronic,
something else the world does not need,

as no one needs the leather-bound collected Thackeray
or the first-edition Joy of Sex inscribed Love,
from Guess Who?
A tattoo should be permanent,

a commitment, a cross-hatched cobra coiled
around the biceps, inks of deep blue and green
like the veins that pop from the carney’s arm

when he makes a fist. A tattoo should not
smear, dissolve with baby-oil-on-tissue,
should be bold as a snake swallowing a mouse

and the mouse-shape traveling the length of it
like a bad idea shaping a life, distorting a life.
The apple is pink-red, like the tip of a cigarette,

its single leaf the green of the 1964 Chevy convertible
on cinder blocks behind the bookstore,
a car that will never run

despite the young man who works
under the hood every night until dark.
Someone should go to him and tell him

the sum is not always greater than its parts.
Sometimes the parts are what is valuable,
what can be parlayed into a life.

Tell him sell the tires, sell the wheels.
Tell him there is not enough light in all of his days
to spend evenings with his back to the stars,

staining his hands with grease and oil.
Someone should give him the tattoo
of the bruised apple, which will last

a week, at best. Tell him the Chevy’s time
has come and gone, that nothing lasts forever
except our desire for things to last forever.

But he is too young to know this,
and nothing can convince him this is true.
Nothing written in any of these books

can show him what his strong hands
seem to show as they fold the oily rag
and drop the hood on another day

and in the gravel lot behind the bookstore
the last of the sun shines
pink, and everywhere, and always.

:: Suzanne Cleary, in Ploughshares (winter 2007-08)


from Searcher

A woman employed to inspect the dress of a corpse, to ascertain
whether the law for the protection of the woolen trade had been
violated by robbing the body in any other material.
—Anne Baker’s Glossary of Northamptonshire Words and Phrases, 1854

You might expect children to be what
I most dread, but I fear the women
whom age has already begun to lay waste,
loosening their neck skin like hosiery
falling undone round an old woman’s
ankles, the first thing I see
when I bend to examine their burial
garments. I know all too well
how the underneath fastenings begin
to give way, the breasts sagging
onto the belly, the belly gone slack
as a haversack emptied. So there they lie,
summer or winter, in good English wool.
I inspect the dress, sometimes
no more than a nightgown, other times
well stitched with simple embroidery
over the bodice, a few tiny shell buttons.
All that’s allowed, if there’s wool underneath
such embellishment. The grave’s cold
beyond our poor souls’ comprehension,
so they should be glad of a garment
that’s woven of earth’s warmest fiber—
what I always say to the grieving.
And yet the grave leaks! This I know well
from seeing my mother dislodged when
the creek flooded. Wet wool clings fast
to the flesh, but their dead flesh feels
naught anymore, so that I lose no sleep
brooding over how well or poorly
the dead sleep beneath us.
Just once did I hesitate
over a newborn wrapped
in the slightest batiste,
no doubt brought from the continent,
asking myself if I dared let this
baby go down to rest in some French
cloth his mother had pieced into swaddling.
I needed this post. I had children myself
and a husband gone wandering.
But watching that woman unwrapping
those limbs yet again and beholding
the knotted fists, fingernails blue
as the first April violets . . . then wrapping
that flesh of her flesh with the rough wool
I carry to punish such lawlessness . . .
No, I did not wonder if, every night after,
she felt her skin chafe as she lay beside
her man, clutching the blanket I made her unwind.
I have learned how to make myself sleep
as the dead sleep,
beyond dreams,
beyond any need for forgetting.

When I hear the bell tolling,
I gather my bag for the journey

and fasten my hair
in a net, wash my face

and my hands, lift
my skirt to examine its hem

for old mud though I know
there will likely be new earth to cling

as I travel the streets
or the country roads; there will be

briars, perhaps, or the dung
left by horses. Perhaps

I will ford streams
or scale hills where sheep

graze. Wherever I go
I will find the same welcome,

a door opened,
nothing said, only the corpse

on a table or bed
and the faces averted as I

touch the clothing to verify
the wearing of wool.

Silver coins stare back
at me from the dead sockets.

Jaws fastened shut by a strip
of cloth, if I am lucky,

or else hanging open,
can gargle no last words

but what I imagine
the dead still remember.

Sometimes I am tempted
to lean closer. But I dare not.

The first time I marveled at how still
the body lay, then I grew frightened.

A body with no breath to lift
its ribs, no pulse to thrum its neck,

no heart to beat when I lowered my ear
to its breast. What’s the good of it,

then, flesh that finally lies
on a table, a day’s work

to bury it, after which everyone goes
back to dumping the slops,

hoeing turnips, and picking their teeth
with the stubble straw. Why are we here,

I would never dare ask, for it meant I’d be
heathen, no faith in God’s

providence. But now I ask.
I still remember how I kicked

the stones underfoot at my mother’s wake,
wanting only to hurl myself

out of this providence into which
I had been born, by the grace

of an Almighty god who gives,
then taketh and taketh away.

:: Kathryn Stripling Byer, in Asheville Poetry Review (15:1, 2008)


Working Girls

The working girls in the morning are going to work--
long lines of them afoot amid downtown stores
and factories, thousands with little brick-shaped
lunches wrapped in newspapers under their arms.
Each morning as I move through this river of young-
woman life I feel a wonder about where it is all
going, so many with a peach bloom of young years
on them and laughter of red lips and memories in
their eyes of dances the night before and plays and walks.
Green and gray streams run side by side in a river and
so here are always the others, those who have been
over the way, the women who know each one the
end of life's gamble for her, the meaning and the
arms that passed around their waists and the fingers
that played in their hair.
Faces go by written over: "I know it all, I know where
the bloom and the laughter go and I have memories,"
and the feet of these move slower and they
have wisdom where the others hve beauty.
So the green and the gray move in the early mornig
on the downtown streets.

:: Carl Sandburg, Chicago Poems (1912)


B.S. and Fast Facts

five gallons of regular and a quart of Pennzoil
led to a conversation with an attendant at a DX
service station about Gene LeRoy Hart
and Indians in general.

I asked,
"Isn't it incredible that the whole city
of Tulsa was once part of an entire Creek

with a loaded gas nozzle in his right hand
he looked up and told me:

"That's bullshit. This station's been here
for years."

: : Jon W. West, in Beloit Poetry Journal (30:2, Winter 1979-80)


Alta, Who Cares for the Things of the World

Alta, who cares for the the things of the world
neither wisely nor well, but with a steady,
smoldering demand of recompense,
slow grudge that no grace repays
her years of loss and disorder, Alta

who scowls each day at the curb, glares back
at broken glass on the corner, who smokes
a cigarette with eloquent despair, waiting
for the bus while her nineteen-year-old lover sleeps
sideways across the bed all morning, she

who goes off tolift and bathe
the brittle ladies of the Westhurst Convalescent Home
and returns to pusha vacuum over a brown carpet,
who puzzles over mysteries of broken safety lock and
ripped awning, and sprays the driveway with a hose,

who leans against a screen door at evening
until the mesh stretches out and gets slack
as a woman's belly, this Alta
is granted tonight a bounty, unasked joy,
discovered by accident as she walks

behind her house by the broken fence,
through devastation of eucalyptus and shards of glass,
uprooted hibiscus and yucca.
And there appears last April's garden,
planted in hope and abandoned, when the men

came to dig up the water mains.
There in the trenches seeds have rooted.
Sheltered beside piles of brush and lumber,
the plants have grown tall, found themselves whole,
climbed boards and wire, out from the bare dirt.

She finds there first season's fruits:
small hard tomatoes and a tiny pepper,
knots of energy among the leaves and sticks.
She digs with her hands and pulls out baby carrots
and twists the new squash from the vine.

She piles vegetables in the basket of a broken
doll's buggy, which she carries with care,
stepping over the hose and the upended
wading pool, through grass and gravel and weeds
back to the house, thrown open to evening.

Rick, the boy-child, ten months her husband, rises
magically from the sofa to remove the stereo earphones.
He holds the door and she enters,
dirt on her knees and hands, the yellow muumuu
stained with black earth. Her daughter,

known to the streets as God-damn-you-Jennifer,
shakes back her head, the mass of fiery hair
insulted to curls by strong chemicals
and reaches up to take, or share,
the burden in her mother's arms.

They slide the basket onto the table, and Frank,
the downstairs boarder. wheels his chair over
and they begin touching the food, believing it.
They knock dirt from carrots
and scrub them at the sink; they slice

onions and drizzle olive oil,
put water on to boil and set out butter.
An odor of the garden rises: damp earth
and steam, and evening air, and onion.
Working over it, gathered, they see themselves

for once together. They see for a moment,
in a moment that will not save them,
how they might be. Struck by the fact,
they look at each other with hatred,
each seeing what is lost, blaming.

:: Cynthia Huntington, We Have Gone to the Beach (1996)


Who Burns for the Perfection of Paper

Click here to read Martin Espada's poem at Ploughshares.


Portrait of a Lady

At the Thomas Circle CVS
we wait behind a woman with black hair
streaked wildly red,
and a black satin jacket
also streaked—wildly red to match.

Rouge becomes her career. Her face is tired,
soft, and the simple facts are these:
it’s Sunday
she went down all night,
and now
she’s stopped to buy tissues and peppermints.

As she rifles through her purse, a quarter
clinks on the floor.
A gentleman in his
Sunday brogues and his go-to-God suit
goes down for her:
he picks the quarter up.

For this she smiles at him,

:: Patric Pepper, Temporary Apprehensions (2005)


Volunteer Fireman's Night

It is hard to sleep, sometimes.
I remember the stale taste
Of the drowned man’s mouth
In the dark water
Beneath the Juva Bridge.
Sometimes I wake suddenly,
The vision of the pregnant wife’s
Eyes cold and fixed
On the last image of headlight
Coming across the center line.
In the smoke of cigarettes
I sometimes find the smell
Of the boy’s burnt thigh
I found
In a burned out farmhouse.

All of these, and others
In cars crushed by locomotives
I could not help, visit me
In darkness, give me blood clots
Larger than my hands.

:: William O. Boggs, Swimming in Clear Water (1989)


Emma Is Surprised While Doing Chores

I have to get my picture
taken for my license tomorrow,
so I’m getting my hair cut
today—it sure did grow over
the winter, the only thing
that does. It’s going to be
a busy few days. When
I get back from town there
will be wash to do
and that will make me
plenty tired. I still like
to use my old wringer washer
because I know the clothes
are done up right when
I put them through the wringer.
That new washer my son bought me
is all water and spinning and when
it shuts off and I open the door,
I find all the clothes twisted.
That can’t be good for them.

The Amish man is coming soon
to trim the horses’ hooves,
so I’ll have to watch out
for him while I work.
He spooks me when he comes up
from behind when I’m weeding
or something. They drive no
cars and make no noise
when they arrive. You just get
going on something and then
there’s a voice and a man
with a beard and black clothes.
It’s enough to make you jump
clear out of your skin.

There was suddenly lots to do
yesterday when we had company.
My son and his wife and
my husband Will’s brother
Walt and his wife dropped in.
They stayed for two meals.
I had oyster stew and hickory
baked ham and cheese sandwiches,
with sweet onion and lettuce,
at noon. It wouldn’t occur
to them how much work it takes
to lay out that much food.
I had pork spare ribs, kraut,
dumplings, creamed new peas
and potatoes for supper.

So I didn’t do much today.
I rested and played Old Sol
some (even beat him, twice,
and I never cheat), after
I baked bread. Always do
that in the morning before
the day heats up. I will
have to get some yarn
and get busy on something
after I finish the rag rug
for in front of my sink.
Could as easy buy one,
but they’re made so cheap
you might as well spread
the newspaper on the floor,
and they never last. I use
good denims, heavy cotton cut
out of Will’s work shirts,
and then I put in colors
from my old house dresses,
enough to make the eye dance.
My rugs will wear and wear.
no matter how hard you use
them, and in front of my sink
a rug can go back to rags
right under my feet
before I know it.

:: Naton Leslie, Emma Saves Her Life (2007)


Canning Season

My mother’s August was a kitchen of steam,
sweat, and vegetables. Corn and peas
piled high in the sink, on the counters,
even the windowsills. Mason jars balancing,
canning wax hot, dripping. Vapor blew
from the pressure cooker, a shrill whistle
that made everyone cringe. I watched
from the doorway, the kitchen off limits,
normal chores excused. Stealing
my cousin’s communion veil, I practiced.
For weeks, television had been a blur
of royal weddings and a princess tucked
behind lace, her face a shadow beneath a veil.
I watched gray tangles of hair sneak
from my mother’s loose ponytail, her hands
a web of blue veins, and I knew my real parents
were royalty. I only needed more proof.
Shoving carrots and cauliflower
underneath the sheets, I stretched
out my bed, watched the dog nudge
the mattress, and waited for mosquito bites
I scratched red and raw, to turn black and blue.

:: Karen Weyant, Stealing Dust (2009)


To Another Student Who Forgot to Put a Name on His Paper

You thank me for assigning this paper
because you “appreciate the opportunity
to communicate real emotions in writting.”
You worked hard all summer on a farm,
didn’t get along with your father. Also,
you write that your writing needs improvement,
and you hope I can help.
It’s as if you’ve become my brother, Ernie,
the kid in the back when the teachers give up,
the kid who says nothing in class,
who sees out of the window fields of marijuana,
money to be made. Whoever you are,
next time please write your name on your paper
so I will recognize you.

:: Tim Skeen, Kentucky Swami (2001)


The Job

When my friend lost her little finger
between the rollers of a printing press,
I hadn’t met her yet. It must have taken
months for the stump to heal, skin stretched
and stitched over bone, must have taken
years before she could consider it calmly,
as she does now, in an airport café
over a cup of black coffee.
She doesn’t complain or blame the unguarded
machine, the noise of the factory, the job
with its long unbroken hours.
She simply opens her damaged hand and studies
the emptiness, the loss
of symmetry and flesh, and tells me
it was a small price to pay,
that her missing finger taught her
to take more care with her life,
with what she reaches out
to touch, to stay awake when she’s awake
and listen, to pay attention
to what’s turning in the world.

:: Dorianne Laux, What We Carry (1994)