Calling Him Back from Layoff

I called a man today. After he said

hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
ohmyGod which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones


:: Bob Hicok, Insomnia Diary (Pittsburgh, 2004)


The Radium Girls

She doesn't mind talking about hers
the slow kind       bruises and swellings
an epidemic of tumors       more photos
nubile girls in cloche hats
wall-eyed boas       grinning at the camera

Radium dial factory girls       deft of hand
each proud to be a woman       earning a man's paycheck
painting numbers       that glow in the dark
on our bedroom clocks       a the time clock ticks
their tractable faces       white and luminous
as calla lilies       bending bobbed heads
over their handiwork       licking the pearly tips
to stub their brushes       to a fine point

In this new element       distilled from deep underground
in the moist rich earth       promising miracle cures
and healing waters       each one unaware
she offers       a share of her body       a note to come due
in five years or ten       down the line

In the X-ray room       she crouches on an iron table
in the government study       the Army needs to see
her shining ribs       her spine like organ keys

More photos       boarded-up factories
steel coffins       barely muffle
the radiant ticking below       negative numbers
half-lives poisoned       an empty clock face
its nights and days       burned away

Sixty years later       this Midwestern grave
of the last of the red-hot mommas
still too hot to handle

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


January in Detroit or Search for Tomorrow Starring Ken and Ann

I think it is interesting

though not exactly amusing
how we go from day to day
with no money. How do we
do it, friends ask, suspecting
we really have some stash
stacked away somewhere.
But we certainly do not
and we also do not know
how we do it either.
You are so lucky,
some of our friends say. I am
none too sure of that though,
as I wait for the winning
lottery numbers to be announced
on CKLW. Thursday in Detroit
is the day of dreams. We have
been dreaming of a place
in the country lately and I’m
none too sure that is very healthy.
And speaking of health that’s
also been a problem that probably
has something to do with no money,
since we’ve all been sick lately,
taking turns politely of course.
Could you bring me some more
tea one of us will ask,
and the other will.
In between the coughing and
worrying our thoughts
have often turned to crime.
We seriously wonder how we can
get away with a bundle with
as little risk as possible.
Last week we took our last
$12 out of the bank
and noticed how much more
they had there though
we had none. Of course
we wouldn’t rob that bank,
they know us there
as the ones who bring
the rolls of pennies in.
And just yesterday they
fish-eyed us for trying
to cash our son’s xmas bond
from his grandparents
after only one month.
So we wouldn’t try to rob that bank,
but I do know of one up north
that may be possible. . .
I know this just seems like
romantic dreaming
but I practically make a career
of reading detective stories,
and God knows, I have no other.
Anyway if the right opportunity
comes along, we are more
than ready to meet it.
But this is a time of waiting,
the I Ching says, though it does
not say how we are to eat
while waiting. And soon
we will have another mouth to feed—
Ann now in her seventh month,
and that is often in our thoughts.
Besides all that we are both
over thirty, artist and poet,
still waiting to cross the great water.
Meanwhile, day after day,
there is still Detroit
to be dealt with – a small pond
says our friend Snee.
Big fish we used to answer him,
but that was a while back.
Now we think maybe Lake Erie
is the great water referred to
in the I Ching, and if we wait
long enough we can
walk across – to Buffalo
or Cleveland. In a healthy person,
says the philosopher, self-pity
can be a forerunner to action:
once the problem is seen clearly,
a solution may be found at hand.
And as I said, I think it is interesting
though not exactly amusing.

:: Ken Mikolowski, Big Enigmas (Past Tents, 1991)