The Unwearing: A Benediction

Then, at last, when machines shut down,
the crank and clatter of their work
quiet at this long shift's end,
when the bobbins are empty,

whistles have stopped blowing,
freight has been loaded on its beds
and is gone, when sore backs
and burly afternoons behind

concrete walls have gone,
when all the plants
have closed their doors,
there will be nothing left

but the spinning earth,
its tight weave of water and root,
soft fabric of morning,
each imperfection counted one

by one, nothing left but the world's
rhythm, the manufacture of its seasons,
nothing but the voices of our ancestors
talking above the roar,

and then we will take off the cloth
and there will be only thread
and then not even thread
or the need for thread

and we will bless each day's creation,
the sweat and rip that wove it,
the oily grace that gave it to us,
how it feels against our skin.

:: Barbara Presnell, Piece Work (Cleveland State University Press, 2007)



I wanted to be like the other Boston Market girls,

and maybe that’s why I kissed the Vietnamese boy
who worked in the kitchen. He tugged me into the walk-in freezer,
calling me baby, and I kissed him without thinking,
the way I did my job—quick, efficient, automatic.
He went back to the oven and I headed to the counter,
and whenever I saw him bringing out fresh mashed potatoes,
I was suddenly busy stacking plastic forks. I didn’t
kiss boys at work after that, not even the sandwich guy
who told me I was cute. I watched the other girls, and listened.
Before the dinner rush, we’d gather around the register to swap
details from the weekend, munching stolen cornbread
and pretending to scrub something, while whoever
had the latest news whispered it, bold: Leslie was dating
the chicken cutter when I started my job, then Vicki dated him,
Leslie again, then Jenn. Missy sucked the dishwasher’s dick
in the back office after closing. Nikki and our married manager
had a seven-month affair. I couldn’t get enough of their gossip.
This was before I’d touched a penis, so I asked them
questions that seemed sensible: Wouldn’t that feel weird?
Why would you want that in your mouth? You don’t remember
your first time? They looked at me blankly, surprised maybe
that they didn’t know. Then our boss sauntered up front
and we scattered to stir the creamed spinach,
empty the trash cans, or check the bathrooms, flirting
with kitchen boys and customers the way teenage girls do,
and with our bitten-off fingernails, tight jeans, and shiny hair,
we looked like the girl next door, we all looked the same.

:: Roxanne Halpine Ward, This Electric Glow (Seven Kitchens Press, 2012)


Bowling Alley

There were six lanes
and a bar next door.

We worked two lanes
at a time. "Jumping"

it was called. Two
maybe three leagues

a night @ 13 cents a line
plus tips. It added up.

It was even kind of fun--
like being on a ship

and dodging broadsides
from the enemy. Look

lively lads! Right on.
You had to pay attention.

Otherwise a freak ricochet
could knock your teeth out.

And it was hot back there
concussive, sweat-slippery

a place I'd dream about
for years--an atmosphere

whistling with bombs
as I remember it

grapeshot, cannonballs
all the furious shrapnel

transposed and manifest
of beleaguered adolescence ...

No wonder we got tired.
There was so much smoke

by the end of the night
we could hardly breathe--

we needed air back there
stars in the open hatchway

an icy, offshore gale
crashing on the gun deck ...

until BANG we were done
the last pin racked

and we found ourselves
taking a leak in fact

out beside the Dumpster
in the literal alley

where it sometimes snowed.
One of us, I remember

had a tattoo. One of us
was missing some teeth.

:: Michael Van Walleghen, Blue Tango (Illinois 1989)


How It Will Always Seem

Last night in Fall River in Lafayette Park,
Near a dilapidated tin tot-slide, and after
He'd snorted angel dust, my friend wanted to swing
At me with a two-by-four. Both of us sweating

Like crazy. For one brief moment, on that glass-
Wracked playground asphalt, a transitory
Instant, it seemed something--pure, engaging--
Which he despised on sight and wanted to smash,

Had revealed itself. But, look, it was really
Just two girls in cut-offs and halter tops.
They'd drunk and flirted with us all night.
Not visions, holy or demonic, even with other-worldly

And soulful tans. They had those bleached
Shag-cuts easy to make fun of, easy for me anyway.
Who knows what I said. But they took off,
And he got pissed. I don't care what he saw.

I down my cornflakes this morning, stare
At puffy red roses on the kitchen wallpaper.
Can't find my gloves, and meanwhile I'm late
For punch-in at the dye plant. So, outside,

I pretend at first I don't hear my father call
From his pickup. Road grit, bugs on the windshield.
On the dash, a crumpled race form: what's left
Of win-or-else shouts as three-year-olds hit

The wire at Suffolk Downs: a scream to be lifted clear,
Now. Nothing, I tell him, leaning on the truck door,
When he asks what I did last night. When what
He means is what are you trying to prove, pal?

And smarten-up. This is how it will always seem to me.
As if a father always knows when his son lies,
And the son lies because he's sure of nothing
But the fact he's headed toward a factory,

Not even noticing why work is noisy and lonely
As the inside of a skull, or what drifts down
Into your blood from convoluted piping
Around fabric vats, or why that river flows

Past the plant, until, reaching the sea twenty miles
Down, near a sand bar, it loses itself,
Now, while the beach haze starts to burn off.
While the day, swallow-delighting, already

Humid, shimmers like a smudged, heavy coin.

:: David Rivard, Torque (Pittsburgh, 1988)


Instrument Factory, Brazil

It's simple enough to give away the coins in your heart, when dust
settles over a pool filled with mineral water and the dogs, those sleek
guards, raise their inky noses to a silver saxophone moon. Beyond Sao
Paulo, down a dirt road, men make French horns, flutes, and cymbals
with the delicate precision of angels. Blue-suited, they sit at tables: one
tests a saxophone, another welds the key of a flute. And each has tools
on the table, a candle, a blue welding flame. Stacks and stacks of half-
finished instruments crowd the factory aisles: bells of horns, all sizes,
rows of French horns hung on a green metal rack, pyramids of tam-
bourines and drums.I love to watch their mouths emerge, but I have
closed my own against the men with their suit coats hung over their
shoulders. Our guide runs his finger across my cheek, then down the
elegant neck of a flute. And the slim scraps of brass, shaved off, curl
like hair when they sweep the floors. Here, they use plastic for clarinets;
even the good wood, when they can get it, rots in the sun. Behind us,
a young boy plays scales in a testing room while vats for nickel and
brass plating steam behind windows. And the workers walk with horns
slung over their shoulders, the almost obscene curves shining in their
closed hands.

:: Kathleen McGookey, Whatever Shines (White Pine Press, 2001)