Class of '77

A decade since I last saw
my college best buddy,
Chuck, mechanical engineer
and doper who graduated
to building nuclear reactors
in Southwestern badlands.
We were smoking in his truck--
I was passing through town--
when I asked how was work,
so he spun the steering wheel
to show off the site, drove
the fifty miles of Utah
nowhere backcountry blacktop
past canyon after canyon
to the spot where monoliths
rose as mutant cauliflowers
and parsnips, where the hardhat
and lunchpail begot super-uranium
and heat, where we listened
in stupendously crucial silence
to an old Grateful Dead tape
until Chuck said: My job, pal.

:: Ken Waldman, in Bordlerlands: Texas Poetry Review #6 (1995)


Company Property

When the buzzer sounds
for our break, Vargas emerges
from the trucks he's loaded
on the graveyard shift
for more than five years,
shoving clear a section
of the resting conveyor belt,
the heavy boxes falling
and bursting all over
the docks around him.
He gets on the belt,
lying face up and squirming,
then stopping and listening
for the crinkripplesnapsigh
that throws his spine back into
alignment. A new man,
he walks with me
to the lunch truck, talking
on the way about school. He says
he's now the top Biochem
student at the local
community college, got the award
at a banquet last night to prove it.
As I dig through the ice pack
looking for a Gatorade, I ask
if he's heard from U.S.C. yet
and as he pays for his daily
Coke and bearclaw, Vargas
tells me that he's on some
waiting list, but after two letters
of appeal, he hasn't heard
a thing. While I wait for my change
he sits down with a bunch
of the old timers on our crew,
bullshitting about the properties
of donuts and enzymes,
his break ticking away.

:: M. Jayme, in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review #6 (1995)


The Circle of Chairs

In her dry-goods store a haphazard
collection of chairs circled
the coal stove: peeling wicker
from the sun parlor, a blurred
needlepoint beyond its prime,
an oak rocker with a broken arm
and a kitchen pine of many Joseph coats
that served faithfully six days a week.

Miss Clara climbed the ladder, her thin
arms pulling muslin and gingham
from rainbow shelves. As women rocked
and gossiped, flannel thumped
across the counter, and tatting shuttles
flew like tongues. Apron patterns were
traced on tissue, while wool, harsh
as a scratchy throat, was folded
into brown bags. Daisy chains were looped
and linked, bluebirds opened wings
on baby bibs. In spring, satin whispered
across the measuring plank and from
the island of linens a bride's gift
of sunbonnet pillows was chosen.

A recipe for jonquil cake traveled
the circle as buffalo nickels roamed
from the cash register to children's
pockets, quarters turned up in
birthday hems, until the chairs
emptied, and Miss Clara leaned the
CLOSED sign against the pale mannequin.
Hunched over her books at the desk
she tried to balance, always
came up short. Pushing worrisome
wisps of grey hair into the net
she'd order more yardage and thread
knowing they'd soon need Easter clothes.

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


Cannery Town in August

All night it humps the air.
Speechless, the steam rises
from the cannery columns. I hear
the night bird rave about work
or lunch, or sing the swing shift
home. I listen, while bodyless
uniforms and spinach specked shoes
drift in monochrome down the dark
moon-possessed streets. Women
who smell of whiskey and tomatoes,
peach fuzz reddening their lips and eyes--
I imagine them not speaking, dumbed
by the cans' clamor and drop
to the trucks that wait, grunting
in their headlights below.
They spotlight those who walk
like a dream, with no one
waiting in the shadows
to palm them back to living.

:: Lorna Dee Cervantes


Window Washer

One hand slops suds on, one

hustles them down like a blind.
Brusque noon glare, filtered thus,
loosens and glows. For five or
six minutes he owns the place,
dismal coffee bar, and us, its
huddled underemployed. A blade,
black line against the topmost glass,

begins, slices off the outer lather,
flings it away, works inward,
corrals the frothy middle, and carves,
with quick cuts, the stuff down,
not looking for anything, beneath
or inside. Homes to the last,
cleans its edges, grooms it for
the end, then shaves it off

and flings it away. Which is
splendid, and merciless. And all
in the wrist. Then, he looks at us.
We makers of filth, we splashers
and spitters. We sitters and watchers.
Who like to see him work.
Who love it when he leaves
and gives it back: our grim hideout,
half spoiled by clarity.

:: Christopher Todd Matthews, in Field # 82, 2010.