Saturday, 12 November 2022 16:59

NO! and Alarm Clock Soldiers: Two poems by Fred Voss

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NO! and Alarm Clock Soldiers: Two poems by Fred Voss

NO!!

by Fred Voss

Laid off
from a big aerospace company at the tail end of 1980
after Ronald Reagan had been elected president
still trying to learn the trade of being a machinist
I needed a job badly
and I found one on night shift
Conrad
was the name of the foreman
and he had a big sticker saying, “NO!!” in huge red letters
pasted to the inside of his toolbox lid like it was his religion
as he frowned and fumed constantly pushing the men to work faster
as the machines screamed and the old air compressors roared rattling the tin walls
and one night
I looked up and saw a very young Mexican machinist crying
and picking up his tools from his workbench and putting them back
into his toolbox
“He fired me!
Goddamned Conrad fired me!” he wailed
through his tears like a little boy
“Goddamned Conrad fired me!
I’ll never be able to get another job!
I only have 6 months machinist experience
I’m only just learning
Goddamned Conrad fired me
Working here’s my only machinist experience
and now I can’t even mention it
What will I say I’ve been doing the last 6 months?
I’ll never get another job
Goddamned Conrad fired me!”
he was having a nervous breakdown
as Conrad fumed and stalked the machine shop telling everyone
how incompetent and hopeless he was
the next night all the machinists laughed at me
because one of them had fooled me into taking a Styrofoam cup he’d given me
to get him some solvent and the solvent had eaten
through the bottom of the cup and poured all over the floor at my feet
and a week later I made a mistake and scrapped out some parts
and Conrad screamed at me,
“Do you even know how to read a blueprint?!”
like I’d never been in a machine shop in my life
and fired me
one week before Christmas

the Reagan era had begun.

Alarm Clock Soldiers

by Fred Voss

We are the ones who never stop
holding wrenches
and wives
closing thumbs around hammers
and arms
around grandchildren
steel dust and foremen screams
in the air we breathe
oil can
and beer can in our fist
motorcycle roar and screw machine rattle in our ear we are the ones who never stop
following freeway white lines
to timeclocks
climbing onto buses to Vegas poker tables and forklifts
to boxcars stacked with 1-ton steel bars
we never stop showing up for work
the next minute the next hour the next year
reliable
as heartbeat and breath and anthill tunnel and meat cleaver edge and Halley’s Comet
steady as the crawling of the shadows of the craters on the moon
we are the ones who never stop
squeezing the jaws of calipers
holding blueprint dimensions on aircraft parts we send to parts inspectors grim and silent
as the Last Judgement
half a thousandth of an inch hole diameters
the dragon we must slay
boredom
big as King Kong the monster we must battle
each tick of the timeclock another drop
of Chinese water torture dripping
onto our skulls we are the ones who never stop
being there
on time
bending down over blueprints with dimensions absolute
as God
we are the ones who learn how to laugh
or die
humble
as dust and empty tunnels and dinosaur fossils
we somehow go on
like the river and the bear and the cactus flower under the broiling sun
solid
as the turning of the earth and the glowing of the Milky Way
and an alarm clock’s
inevitable
5 am ring.

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Read 1159 times Last modified on Saturday, 12 November 2022 17:11
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.