Sunday, October 17, 2010

The First and Last Job

I’m completely yours.
I left my shovel home
but I’ll use yours.
I won’t take any time
to eat lunch
or take a break, I’m
completely happy
having a job at all.

Went downstairs after punching
the time card.
Took off my shirt and vest
my socks, my drawers,
slipped back into pants
and Go-Aheads
and got down to work.

The morning goes fast
by the time a full day is over.
The afternoon is the hardest.
You have to think here
before you scoop and throw
the coal into the boiler.
You have to learn to step back
when the fire flares up.

I want to be the best
I can be.
I want to do this for a living.
It’s good for the body
and pays the bills.
I never planned to do
what I’m doing,
but it’s a job and pays well.

The poetry is in the fire.
The flame is mixed with black
coals and is the color
of Stendhal’s greatest novel
Le Rouge et le noir.

I read it once in late autumn
in Seattle.
Everyone in the city was there.

I mean they were Julien Sorel
and Company:
the wife who mistress’d him,
her husband, the fool,
the priests, the jailers,
the soldiers, the judges,
the hangman, they stopped by
to ask what I was reading.

You learn how to do this first
on a ship. That’s why
young men go off to sea very early,
they want the experience
they need, most of them, those
ambitious ones
who have their eye on the future.
They learn how to shovel fast.

The ship cuts through waves
in storms, makes good time
in calmer weather,
and I love to feel the roll
when I’m on deck.
It’s what I miss down here,
that shifting footwork you need
to practice to stay upright.

The boiler room away from
the ship, then, is the place
I hunted for work because
Faulkner was a night watchman
when he couldn’t find work
in a brothel.
Like Melville I was a sailor
just to kiss dry land.

This is called, as you can see,
Life in the Boiler Room

but it’s not about me.
It takes up the ordinary and
puts you there. Could be you
digging into the coal pile,
scooping up a shovelful
and arcing it into the boiler

where it gives another heartbeat
of the beast this building is,
no more, no less than the ship.
Melville set pins in a bowling alley
in Honolulu.
He didn’t stay on dry land long.
He loved the island women.
They loved the white man he was.

I’m straying from my work.
I am getting weary, must go home
directly after punching out,
pass by the saloon
and the taxi dancers’ ballroom
heading home to feed my animal
with her mouth and pussy cat,
and stay in bed to cash in

the sleep I earned.
I think about vacation time
accrued if I don’t take time
to stay home.
I’ll go to work sick if I have to.
I need the long journeys
somewhere I’ve never been,
Tahiti, say, or Natchez, Mississippi.

And when I retire I will have
enough laid by to keep warm
even in winter.
There are others who will freeze,
I fear, they are too prodigal
and easy on themselves.
I keep remembering Captain Bligh
like I was Fletcher Christian.

The girls fall into my wahine arms.
They give me pleasure and keep
a little for themselves.
The men smile and go about
their business, what
I will never know. That world
is theirs. The one I live in is mine.
I have the right there to work

for a living.
I want to say
thank you to someone.
The boss is never around.
He must think I can do the work
well by now.
The boiler keeps burning,
I’m not the only one here.

(30 September 2010)

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