Syrian Light and the Leisure of Moths

This must have been how it was
to look down from the orchard hills of Ghota at dawn,
and see Damascus shining far below
and for the last time.

In that light, it must have looked fragile and clean
like acres of card houses.
He had what he could walk with--
the piastres for his ticket,
flat bread for the slow passage, a folded
name and address.

But this isn't the honeyed light of memory; it's coal dust
from the number three shaft mine in Clearview, West Virginia,
drifting through the windows and doors,
mapping the palms of his small, brown hands,
following him into the house where his wife
is raising nine children and living at the stove
with her ginger root fingers and her cabbage heart
             the leaves of which she gives away.

She was a cool round washing machine
             wearing a feedsack apron.
He was a lunch pail and beard full of coal
             gone to the mine with the night's last shadows.

Weaving ruined nylons into rugs,
hunting dandelions in spring,
scraping the bones of dinner
into the black dirt of the garden,
they never owned a car, or flew on a plane,
or tasted store-bought eggs.

What was he thinking, the night
I found him watching the listless way
the gypsy moths kept flopping their wings against
the screen, a dozen opiated concubines,
each of them yawning and waving a fan?

The Syria that was left for him was in his fig and apricot trees.
Hauntng no one in the paid-for house,
settled, but half-homeless
until the breath in his black and clouded lungs
refused to move.

:: Eliot Khalil Wilson, The Saint of Letting Small Fish Go (Cleveland, 2003)


In Praise of My Bed

At last I can be with you!

The grinding hours
since I left your side!
The labor of being fully human,
working my opposable thumb,
talking, and walking upright.
Now I have unclasped
unzipped, stepped out of.
Husked, soft, a be-er only,
I do nothing, but point
my bare feet into your
clean smoothness
feel your quiet strength
the whole length of my body.
I close my eyes, hear myself
moan, so grateful to be held this way.

:: Meredith Holmes, Shubad's Crown (Pond Road Pr, 2003)


The Tomato Packing Plant Line

Bumped and rolling jovially
down the conveyor the tomatoes
dance in       a press of faces
the shine on their skins like smiles
the stem ends chipper as cowlicks.

Young women remove the mistakes--
harelips       two-headed ones       gashed ones
with papery crosshatched scars.
Tiny ones too are removed
to be juiced with the freaks.

At the far end hemmed in by boxes
the old women sort the tomatoes
the largest and the perfect ones first.
Their hands       like their eyes
know the swell before ripeness.
It is something they flaunted
on Fridays            a gust that inflated
box-pleated skirts into bells
as they stepped into dusk
hands washed white of tomatoes
which did not survive
their ripeness.

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


Traveling Salesman

He finds himself stepping off the bus in some burg he’s already bored with. Picking
his teeth for 200 miles—here’s where he spits the toothpick out. Past Holiday Inn
the neighborhoods get dark. All-night laundromats where women with circles under
their eyes press laundered underwear, warm as bread, against their sinuses. Finally,
he’s signing the register at a funeral home where he knows no one, but is mistaken
for a long-lost friend of the deceased, for someone who has dislocated his life to
make the hazardous journey on a night when the dead man’s own children have
avoided him. Once again instinct has taken him where he’s needed; where the
unexpected transforms routine into celebration. He kneels before the corpse,
striking his forehead against the casket.

:: Stuart Dybek, Brass Knuckles (Pittsburgh, 1979)



That Lucia broke the machine twice in one week was evidence enough. He also offered
this—she’s no longer automatic, her stitches are crooked and once another seamstress
found Lucia’s “lost” sewing patterns in the trash. The security guard half listened as
Lucia gathered her things. Then the manager turned directly to her—what is it with
you? We give you work, put money in your pocket. She put on her best disappointed
face as they escorted her past rows of itchy throats, bowed heads, the refrain of needle
through fabric.

Every day Elena counts pig. A pageant of molded plastic rolling down the conveyor belt.
The task: grab Miss Piggy, pull gown over snout, fasten two tiny buttons, grab another.
With each doll Elena’s hands grow stiffer. Her feet grow heavy as the concrete below.
Dolls spit at her, or maybe this is imagined, but the ache in her legs might be real. The
supervisor brushes against her back when he patrols the floor. After standing for
hours, the room begins to blur. Her mouth opens like an empty wallet as naked dolls
march on.

What will settle in, what will rise from the lungs of girls who still burn weeks after
detox treatment at a local clinic. Speak of headaches, blurred vision, diarrhea. How
they suck air thick with sulfuric acid. Acetone working past unfiltered exhaust systems
and through their livers. Most return to work despite doctors’ orders. Back inside, the
tin roof and their steady perspiration remind them they’re still alive—together one
breathing, burning machine.

Like Celia’s pockets, there’s nothing but lint here. Lint & dead machines. The sound of
layoffs & profit margins. Yesterday this department droned an unsynchronized rhythm
of coughing girls tethered to well-lubed motors. Row after row of pre-asthmatic lungs.
Black hair buried under perpetual white. The decision was made across the border, he
tells them. Nothing I can do about it. Sometimes Celia would imagine the whole place
caught inside a tiny globe. Something she could pick up. Shake.

A perpetual conveyor, he patrols her mouth. The sound of unfiltered white. Breathing
margins. The task: grab Elena’s hands. Pull. Fasten. He also offered crooked patterns.
Put money in her hair. That Lucia broke. Was evidence enough? Molded vision as a
refrain. An empty wallet will rise. Speak. How they exhaust systems. Despite the
blurred other, the ache might be real. Something she could pick up. Across the border,
nothing I can imagine.

:: Paul Martinez Pompa, My Kill Adore Him (Notre Dame, 2009)