Father, His Friend, and Another

Father’s friend Ray at the planing mill
worked wood the color of afternoon air,
curls of it clasping everything there—
like the legs of the saw that mumbled at first,
and then the white shriek through birch.

While the two talked I felt the boards,
yellow and smooth, and uncurled rolls
of handshaved pine, put them like rings
around my arm to wear them home.
My father said, “Sure, leave them on.”

As we started for home Father told me
that another man when they were all young
was close to them, and they sang in church.
When the other man died Ray ran out
to the country and hid, from grief—two days.

I remember that clutch, and I wave again
back through the sun at Father’s friend.

:: William Stafford, in Brother Songs: A Male Anthology of Poetry (1979)


Self-Inquiry Before the Job Interview

Did you sneeze?
Yes, I rid myself of the imposter inside me.

Did you iron your shirt?
Yes, I used the steam of mother's hate.

Did you wash your hands?
Yes, I learned my hygiene from a raccoon.

I prayed on my knees, and my knees answered with pain.
I gargled. I polished my shoes until I saw who I was.
I inflated my resume by employing my middle name.

I walked to my interview, early,
The sun like a ring on an electric stove.
I patted my hair when I entered the wind of a revolving door.
The guard said, For a guy like you, it's the 19th floor.

The economy was up. Flags whipped in every city plaza
In America. This I saw for myself as I rode the elevator,
Empty because everyone had a job but me.

Did you clean your ears?
Yes, I heard my fate in the drinking fountain's idiotic drivel.

Did you slice a banana into your daily mush?
I added a pinch of salt, two raisins to sweeten my breath.

Did you remember your pen?
I remembered my fingers when the elevator opened.

I shook hands that dripped like a dirty sea.
I found a chair and desk. My name tag said my name.
Through the glass ceiling, I saw the heavy rumps of CEOs.
Outside my window, the sun was a burning stove,
All of us pushing papers
To keep it going.

:: Gary Soto, in Poetry (July 2001)



Though it's a city job, Carlos isn't wearing
his orange vest and yellow hardhat,
but clomps around in tan ranchero hat
and washed-out denim shirt. The foreman
warns him once again, as he must, and Carlos
swears he won't forget again tomorrow.
He straps himself into the motor grader,
skims a glove across the black knobs,
and eases forth with a mule-driver's patience,
leveling truck-dumped piles of raw fill
smoother than the sea of Cortez.
Maybe it's a gift, such effortless grace,
such seamless union of man and machine,
and maybe it's a sign how every morning,
punctual as the lunch truck with its
shave-and-a-haircut horn, he kills the engine,
clambers down, struts up close to a massive
chevron-treaded tire and just starts peeing,
as though the whole site weren't naked
as a soccer field, boxed along three sides
by green glass towers. Not that it matters--
the soil he darkens will be asphalted over
soon enough, and even now, here comes
the water-tank truck, spewing like a fire plug
wrenched open in the mid-city heat.
Small hot-pink pennants still mark
the heavy conduit we sank just yesterday,
and we've got planks on edge, framing
where the walkway's going to be.
The cement mixer inches up, its great drum
putting like a clock hand teasing toward the hour.
And Hector levers the crusty sluice above
the ready beds, the newsprint-colored mortar
plopping like horseshit to the ground.
And Manny makes quick work of it, his trowel
and squeegee broom drawing it so tight,
a dropped dime would roll to a standing stop
and never topple over. There is a thin line
between miracle and mastery. Even
Carlos stands, hat off with the rest of us,
nodding as with subtle understanding.

:: Gabriel Spera, in Cimarron Review (summer 2007)


The Insomniac's Pet Shop

I have no use for cages.
They can copulate wherever
they want. By moonlight, I clean
the dead canary of the birdseed
it is lying in. Pluck the pretty
feathers--the azures and the yellow-
greens. I keep one sign facing
inward: Thank you ... Come Again ...

is rat and roach
for lovers of the scuttle
and the heavy gait. With Chopin
on the antique phonograph
I savor the skips and scratches;
waltz with the white toy poodle
who sleeps in the wire cell by the window.

In my pet-shop, the fish tank
is covered with a hairy-green
algae no one can see through.
To buy a goldfish from me
is an act of faith. And maybe,
like your own prayer for rest,
you'll hear the tiny diver
calling you from the bottom.

:: Peter Marcus, in Agni #37