I used to wonder, masturbating, why
love was so hard to come by. Then Irene
showed up on the line above where I was
keeping the one-hundred-pound sacks secure
under the mouth of the machine jigging,
the word was, filling each sack to leave space
to sew it shut, which was a high-paid job,
you could bloody your fingers, had to be
a lifer, the old ones who could avoid
getting their blood on sacks ready to ship,
while up there the women with rubber gloves
sorted the bad from the good, throwing out,
culling was the word, what went to the bin
emptied by the youngest boys twice a day,
and over the conveyor belt there came
cascading the edible ones, each sack
filling with the ‘I won’t get in your way’
potatoes ‘if you give me ample room
to sleep while awaiting with our brethren’
the night shift, when Jess Maltos and I stay
until at least midnight filling boxcars
whereupon more hours pass until daylight,
locomotive coupling with cars for lunch
–while the back room is filling up again–
and Jess goes one way and I another,
he sits with Martha and I with Irene.
People talk. (I can hear and so can Jess.)
What’s that spic doing with that white girl there?
He ought to be doing what he’s doing
with that Castenada woman instead
–who’s only a girl herself–that white boy
is wooing. I turn to her, kiss Irene
on her neck, she chuckles leading me on
and I would love to lift her dress and dive
between her legs, but no time for dessert,
and we return to that dimly lit room.
Irv Niedermeyer pushes the button
to start all the machines in his warehouse,
he has that much power and never smiles;
his partner Frank Young smiles for both of them.
Because I smile back I am made head man
of the night shift charged with filling boxcars
until the back room is empty, and Jess
helps because I was asked to choose a man
and I chose him, and the two of us fill
our time cards between eight in the morning
and midnight but only five days a week,
an hour off for lunch, an hour for dinner,
a dollar fifty an hour, twenty one
dollars a day, one hundred five per week,
in a month four hundred twenty dollars
and after a year five thousand forty . . .
but Martha and Irene are paid much less
because Irv and Frank pay their wives nothing,
why Irv is a prune and needs Frank to pick
up spirits to keep from paying down
their profit margin, what makes them happy
when each six-week potato harvest ends.
Six hundred thirty dollars in the bank?
No way. They take plenty out and blame it
on the government. It’s gone, that’s for sure..
We get our checks here, at Niedermeyer’s
Warehouse each gloomy, potato-smelling
Friday after work, when the banks are closed
and we have to pretend we have money
Saturday, when Martha and Irene pay
for hamburgers and Cokes at the drive-in
where they contemplate working as car-hops
to make more money working nights, like us.
Nobody drinks? You gotta be kidding!
Masturbate? Who needs to? I don’t know where
Jess and Martha go after mass, but I
come up here with Irene, who shows me how
much we learn from life just by living it.
Up here you can see the lights of the town
come on, you stay that long learning to love
each other, but come another season
boys go off to college and girls marry,
and in the meantime we count off the years
until life turns magically happy.
(4 July 2011: Nathaniel Hawthorne’s birthday)
copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander