Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Working Stiff

We worked the graveyard shift and after that
the closest bar. One night Ruth came along,
I went home with her. Her daughter slept through
the sounds. Ruth had red hair, top to bottom,
her toes were pink. Nothing on her was dark.
So naturally I remembered Irene,
who by now had a home, husband, children
for all I knew. I lay with Ruth in bed,
bodies glistening with our love juices
. . . remembering Irene Castenada.

I was here summers working graveyard shift.
Ruth was working the line where the women,
as usual, worked harder than the men.
We did the heavy lifting, took chances,
kept up bravado with our meaningless
conversation women had no time for.
Some who lived alone would take a man home.
One does what one remembers feeling good.
After Irene no one had felt as good
to me. Unlike Ruth, I had not married.

When summer ended I went back across
the mountains. My first city, Seattle.
What can I say, who loved only his mind . . .
There was the elder who told me I was
like him drinking, fucking, sleeping too much.
He urged on me the work of the woman
who wrote as perfectly as she loved him
in bed. His teacher. What if I had stayed
in that valley fathering children with
Irene, a working stiff learning Spanish

instead of loving one woman after
the last, going to school with the masters
of words who knew what they saw in their minds
emerged from and returned to all the words
no one with whom I labored for money
or slept with ever said. The working stiffs.
They knew what they were doing was for life.
Ruth and her sisters married among them.
The year I met Cathleen she could not live
with me without her mother’s permission.

Therefore our friend Sharon covered for her.
She worked the desk, the switchboard, every night,
and when someone asked for Cathleen she said
where she was, when she returned, how often
she worked with books in her room through the night . . .
Cathleen with me that year in the houseboat
on Lake Union, off Fairview, and we slept
together after love, once tumescence
had turned detumescent, the working stiff
in me now limp with love for my gypsy.

(30 August 2011)

copyright 2011 by Floyce Alexander

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