Between Men

We're scheduled for a local, deadheading back.
I check the straight-truck for blankets, rubbers,
reefer dollies, humpstraps and four-wheelers
while Bob checks the gas and oil. The load-on
is an hour away. This means breakfast first.

I order cheesecake. I ask for a hefty portion
but Dottie brings me a measly sliver. "Serves
you right," says Bob over his burnt bacon.
Bob, who's already pinched Dottie, asked her
to sit on his lap, and is sure not to leave a tip.

On the way to the shipper's, I sleep in the cab
to escape Bob's prison re-runs. He wakes me
when we get to Ojai. The job turns out to be
a three room, not a two. Lots of boxes, base
and stick. Another lowball. But Bob's in love.

The shipper's a beauty. Bob confides his lust
as we secure the first tier. Your typical square,
solid start: triple dresser, end tables, a fridge,
books and dishpacks. "She's so hot!" he cries.
Bob hasn't noticed her wrists, feet or ankles,

let alone her neck. I break it to him easy.
He eyeballs her again like he eyes a house
to guess the size truck it'll take. He returns,
a box in each arm. "Fuckin' A. Fuckin' A."
Doesn't say another word until the last tier

is tied off. "Would you ever have it done?"
is the best he comes up with. "No way," I say.
To which he has the balls to ask for first crack
if I change my mind. Says I'd be real pretty.
Which is sweet, but not sweet enough.

:: Ron Drummond, Why I Kick at Night (Portlandia, 2004)

[originally published in The Journal]


Work Song

This fastening, unfastening, and heaving--
this is our life. Whose life is it improving?
It topples some. Some others it will toughen.
Work is the safest way to fail, and often
the simplest way to love a son or daughter.
We come. We carp. We're fired. We worry later.

That man is strange. His calipers are shiny.
His hands are black. Forlunch he brings baloney,
and, offered coffee, answers, "Thank you, no."
That man, with nothing evil left to do
and two small skills to stir some interest up,
fits in the cornered curtain of a shop.

The best part of our life is disappearing
into the john to sneak a smoke, or staring
at screaming non-stop mills, our eyes unfocused,
or standing judging whose sick joke is sickest.
Yet nothing you could do could break our silence.
We are a check. Do not expect a balance.

That is a wrathful man becoming older,
a nobody like us, turned mortgage holder.
We stay until the bell. That man will stay
ten minutes more, so no one can complain.
Each day, by then, he's done exactly ten.
Ten what, exactly, no one here can say.

:: Joshua Mehigan, in Poetry (July/August 2008)


To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing

Now all the truth is out,
Be secret and take defeat
From any brazen throat,
For how can you compete,
Being honor bred, with one
Who were it proved he lies
Were neither shamed in his own
Nor in his neighbors' eyes;
Bred to a harder thing
Than Triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Whereon mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known
That is most difficult.

:: William Butler Yeats


Cleaning the Outhouse

Click here to read Paul's poem in Ploughshares.


What Work Is

We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is--if you're
old enough to read this you know
what work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting fromone foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it's someone else's brother,
narrower across the shoulders than
yours but with the same sad slouch, the grin
that does not hide the stubbornness,
the sad refusal to give in to
rain, to the hours of wasted waiting,
to the knowledge that somewhere ahead
aman is waiting who will say, "No,
we're not hiring today," for any
reason he wants. You love your brother,
now suddenly you can hardly stand
the love flooding you for your brother,
who'snot beside you or behind you or
ahead because he's home trying to
sleep off a miserable night shift
at Cadillac so he can get up
before noon to study his German.
Works eight hours a night so he can sing
Wagner, the opera you hate most,
the worst music ever invented.
How long has it been since you told him
you loved him, held his wide shoulders,
opened your eyes wide and said those words,
and maybe kissed his cheek? You've never
done something so simple, so obvious,
not because you're too young or too dumb,
not because you're jealous or even mean
or incapable of crying in
the presence of another man, no,
just because you don't know what work is.

:: Philip Levine, What Work Is (Knopf, 1991)