We stand in the rain in a long line
waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.
You know what work is — if you’ re
old enough to read this you know what
work is, although you may not do it.
Forget you. This is about waiting,
shifting from one foot to another.
Feeling the light rain falling like mist
into your hair, blurring your vision
until you think you see your own brother
ahead of you, maybe ten places.
You rub your glasses with your fingers,
and of course it’ s someone else’ s brother,
Jobs & Working
We stand in the rain in a long line
In October of the year,
he counts potatoes dug from the brown field,
counting the seed, counting
the cellar’ s portion out,
and bags the rest on the cart’ s floor.
He packs wool sheared in April, honey
in combs, linen, leather
tanned from deerhide,
and vinegar in a barrel
hooped by hand at the forge’ s fire.
“But can you forge a nail?” the blond boy asks,
And the blacksmith shoves a length of iron rod
Deep in the coal fire cherished by the bellows
Until it glows volcanic. He was a god
Before anachronism, before the tasks
That had been craft were jobbed out to machine.
By dint of hammer-song he makes his keen,
Raw point, and crowns utility with rose:
Quincunx of facets petaling its head.
The breeze-made-visible sidewinds. The boy’ s
Blonde mother shifts and coughs. Once Work was wed
My brother comes home from work
and climbs the stairs to our room.
I can hear the bed groan and his shoes drop
one by one. You can have it, he says.
The moonlight streams in the window
and his unshaven face is whitened
like the face of the moon. He will sleep
long after noon and waken to find me gone.
She was twenty-two. He was fifty-three,
a duke, a widower with ten children.
They met in Paris, each in exile from
the English Civil War. Virginal
and terrified, still she agreed
to marry him. Though women were mere chattel
spinsterhood made you invisible
in the sixteen hundreds. Marriage was arranged
— hers a rare exception. Despite a dowry
a woman never could own property.
Your womb was just for rent. Birth control
contrivances — a paste of ants, cow dung
Carpenters whose wives have run off
Are sometimes discovered weeping on the job.
But even then they don’ t complain of their work.
Whitman’ s father was a carpenter.
He was so happy hammering houses
That he jumped with a shout from the roof beam
And rolled with a yawp in the timothy.
This led his son to conclude wrongly
That all workmen are singers.
Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines — how not be annihilated by it? — the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
We finished clearing the last
Section of trail by noon,
High on the ridge-side
Two thousand feet above the creek
Reached the pass, went on
Beyond the white pine groves,
Granite shoulders, to a small
Green meadow watered by the snow,
Edged with Aspen — sun
Straight high and blazing
But the air was cool.
Ate a cold fried trout in the
Trembling shadows. I spied
Beat! beat! drums! — blow! bugles! blow!
Through the windows — through doors — burst like a ruthless force,
Into the solemn church, and scatter the congregation,
Into the school where the scholar is studying,
Leave not the bridegroom quiet — no happiness must he have now with his bride,
Nor the peaceful farmer any peace, ploughing his field or gathering his grain,
So fierce you whirr and pound you drums — so shrill you bugles blow.
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’ s song, the ploughboy’ s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,