Saturday, 15 January 2022 14:28

Two new poems by Fred Voss

Written by
in Poetry
630
Two new poems by Fred Voss

Under Their Sweaty Wings

by Fred Voss

I have had many fathers between tin walls
one
who told me to lay a crescent wrench across the jaws of a vice
if I left the vice untightened at the end of the workday
so I wouldn’t forget it was loose the next morning and drop a block of steel between its jaws
and send the teeth of a cutter flying through the steel and have the steel explode
in my face
another taught me how to tell what RPM to set a cutter at by putting his palm
flat against the side of a milling machine head and feeling its vibrations
like a gypsy fortune-teller
reading a palm
another told me of how when he was young he wrestled Gorgeous George to the mat
in the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A.
lonely
as a street urchin wandering a concrete machine shop floor trying to learn a skill to make a living
with a long-necked can of cutting oil and whatever grit I could pull out
of my guts
leaving Shakespeare a million miles behind in a graduate school I’d dropped out of
these were my fathers
from Lebanon or El Salvador or East L.A. gang or WW2 submarine or prison cell
          or circus trapeze
who’d landed in this machine shop
too
fathers with toolboxes they’d worn shiny and smooth with decades of their fingers
opening and shutting their drawers
men who’d been shell-shocked divorced shot at who’d cut a finger off or gone mad
howling at the moon working too many years on graveyard shift
fathers
when I hadn’t seen my father in 2 years when my mother
had disowned me and bikers with metal plates in their legs or heads
were my only friends
and I hadn’t yet written one poem to show me the way
fathers
who made cutting oil and shiny chips of brass
seem holy
giving me old tape measures and sine bars that had crossed the raging Atlantic or a Mexican
          desert full of cactus
like I was the son they never had
their toolboxes Bibles
the invention of fire the rolling of the first wheel the hammering of the first nail
in their twinkling eyes
taking me under their sweaty wing
giving me a home where forklifts rolled and Krakatoa 2-ton drop hammers boomed
and I laced up my steel-toed boots and squared a hardhat
on my head
home at last
where the ticking of a timeclock
was the mother
of us all.

Why Beethoven Kept His Fingers On The Piano Keys

by Fred Voss

I have stood before time clocks
for 45 years
once
they were big steel boxes with clock hands that ticked like doom
last judgements
that said our lives were worth something only if we dropped a timecard
into them by 6:00 am or 3:30 pm or midnight so they could go
KA-CHUNK!
and punch the cards so we could begin our day shift or swing shift or graveyard shift in some factory
now
they are computers
waiting for our finger on a mouse to click the “Clock On” box on a screen
so our lives can have value
I have seen men just off 3-day drunks
with fingers shaking so badly from head-shattering hangovers they can barely grip
a timecard or mouse long enough
to clock in
because their wives have left them or threatened them with a carving knife
or died
and I have seen men dying to go to Vegas because they feel dead sure Lady Luck is finally ready
to give them that million-dollar jackpot
reach down inside themselves for every last bit of willpower they can find
and clock in
to keep their feet on solid ground
and a grip on their lives and walk across a hard concrete floor and turn on their machine
and know
they are still worth something
KA-CHUNK!
went the timeclock or “click”
went the mouse and the men were still in the game
as blast furnaces spit white-hot flame
or the twin towers fell down and smoked
or the sun dimmed in total eclipse over the Amazon river
still worth something
as the tigers roared in midnight jungles
and the stars shone down on thousand-year-old cathedrals
as they walked toward a machine
to turn it on and carve tool steel down into an engine ring
for a rocket into outer space
or shaved brass down into the bell of a trumpet
so it could serenade
a newly-wed bride dancing under the moon
still worth something
like Beethoven
keeping his fingers on the piano keys
and every man who has ever turned off a ringing alarm clock and gone
to work.

Read 630 times Last modified on Saturday, 15 January 2022 14:35
Fred Voss

Fred Voss, a machinist for 35 years, has had three collections of poetry published by Bloodaxe Books, and two by Culture Matters: The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, and Robots Have No Bones.