Thursday, 30 January 2020 18:55

Turning Slavery into Art

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in Poetry
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Process Worker, Pirelli
Process Worker, Pirelli
by Chris Killip

Turning Slavery Into Art

by Fred Voss

“This is slavery,”
Armando on the old manual milling machine says
and smiles
his ironic smile
as all the shop machinists fire up their machines and drop denim or leather aprons
around their necks as the time clock ticks
“Every day, the same, every day
here on the dot every day
doing what they say whether we like it
or not….” Armando says
his wistful eyes looking through the factory tin wall toward some distant star
on the horizon
this man pushing 60
who long ago wanted to be an astronomer but found himself starving as he tried to pay
for graduate school
and I think of mentioning Marx
and wage slaves and surplus labor and capitalist vampires sucking the life blood
out of men like him and me
the book on existential alienation I read in college
Neruda
writing poems about the American corporations working Chilean peasants to death then throwing
them away
like rotten fruit
but Armando
has already summed it all up
and I just say, “I know what you mean….”
and we nod to each other and he turns
to his machine to work on one of his incredibly creative and imaginative job setups
with 1-2-3 blocks and U-clamps and nuts and bolts and hoses and C-clamps
and trigonometric angle sine bars and 90-degree plates and machinist square
and one-thousandth-of-an-inch-accurate Jo Blocks
all arranged across his machine table in original
beautiful ways
and I tell him once again how I’d like to take a photograph
of his beautiful setup and he laughs in delight
and I walk away toward my machine long ago having dropped out of the U.C.L.A.
English literature Ph.D. school and already
writing this poem in my head
about Armando and me
2 men
who have found a way to turn their job in this machine shop
into something special
no manager in his office will ever know or understand
2 men
who could have gotten degrees and put on white shirts
turning slavery
into art.

 

Read 321 times Last modified on Friday, 31 January 2020 18:01
Fred Voss

Fred Voss, a machinist for 32 years, has had three collections of poetry published by the UK’s Bloodaxe Books. His latest booklet is The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, published by Culture Matters.