In the days when I was training
on the Griggio in Blaise's shop,
all metric and fabulous, with dials and rings
and a brake, electromagnetic, meant
to simplify setup (it didn't), I was always
wrangling against the power feeder, trying
to keep straight what was cope and what
was stick, how to run cock bead with the face
on the fence, whether to bolt the tenon clamp
on the ball-bearing table before or after
I pinned the miter gauge in place.

It was crazymaking. I loathed the machine
as I had loved Thorn's simple, elegant
Powermatic of Delphine Avenue, Waynesboro.
I'd get all shaky and gun-shy and couldn't stand
to have to fix the shaper steel between
the lock-knife collars and tweak them
into their perfect little circles of scotia, bolection,
astragal. But what I did like--this

is the thing of it, finally--was that the cutterhead
was so big, and the column of air it started moving
so massive, that simply by opening one's mouth
and moving the lips in and out in larger or smaller shapes
of "O," one sang with a voice not one's own, and whistled.
Like blowing across the neck of a bottle, but weirder.
It was as though a harmonic existed in the back of the throat
along a string drawn tight by the work of the shaper:
to remove whatever is not the thing desired of it,
the carbide cutter, after all, formed in the shape of matter
one can do without. In the end familiarity
bred contempt, and my fear, which was vast,
gave way to convenience: nothing bad kept happening.
We turned out acres and acres of frame-and-panel,
and I got paid my wage. Still always played
the mouth-game, even after the wonder of it,
and the oddity, blew away like so much swarf
through the dust-pipe, down the cyclone, to the drop-box,
filling bins and bins and bins and bins and bins.

:: John Casteen, in Ploughshares 29:4 (Winter 2003-04)


Shifting Piles

I place a pile of credits to my left
and a pile of debits to my right.
After I type the numbers from the debits
onto the credits
I pile the debits on top of the credits.
Then I pull the carbons from the credits
and separate the copies into piles.
I interfile the piles
and bring them over to the files
where I file the piles and pull the files
making a new file of piles.
Then I make files
for the pile that has no files
and put them into a new file pile.
I take the new file pile down the aisle
over to the table where Mabel
makes labels for April to staple.
I take the new labeled stapled file pile
back down the aisle over to the file
to be interfiled with the pile of filed files.
After I file April's piles
I get new debits from Debby
and new credits from Kerry.
I carry Kerry's credits and Debby's debits
back to my desk
and place a pile of credits to my left
and a pile of debits to my right.

:: Leslea Newman, in If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs


Everything I Learned from Start-Ups

Senior management does not care about you.
Customer service is another axiom for following the Golden Rule.
There are never enough hours in the day to do your job properly.
Management will never hire enough quality people.
Document, document, document.
C.Y.A. (Cover Your Ass).
You can't do your work and go to meetings.
If you are in meetings for more than half your day, quit.
Quit when you are required to wear shoes.
Quit when the free stuff isn't.
Quit when you do the job and your boss takes the credit.
Quit when your boss is fired for politics.
Quit when management hires a consulting agency to optimize the process.
Quit when you get the feeling it's time.
Quit and management will finally offer you what you are worth,
offer you the job that you really want.
Stock options are just options.
Golden handcuffs are only handcuffs if you let them be.
The promise of money is just a word.
Not given in earnest.
Go back to school with the stocks and bonuses.
Take something you enjoy.
Leave the industry and never look back.

:: Laura Lehew, in Work


Day Labor

Every Saturday when I come to work
my dirty windows look out on the street
where very short men wait for jobs
to offer themselves up.
At eight in the morning they are standing
on the sidewalk, their bicycles
Huffy and Mongoose
chained to a speed limit sign.
They wear baseball caps
and have silver-capped
front teeth.
By ten they are sitting in a line.
On the narrow sidewalk, they wait.
When their jobs drive up in late model trucks
the scramble begins--
knocking on windows, whistling,
and fingers in the air.
Only one or two will get it
out of the fifteen men who do this every morning.
The rest disperse.
The hot coffee burns my tongue.

:: Ileanna Portillo, in Work