Tuesday, 25 July 2023 07:19

Whippoorwills and Welding Rods

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in Poetry
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Whippoorwills and Welding Rods

Whippoorwills and Welding Rods

by Fred Voss

When I first started in a machine shop
I didn’t even know how t use a file
“Didn’t anyone teach you how to use a file Fred?”
the foreman from Texas
asked me
when he saw me push a flat file back and forth like a scrub brush
across the sharp corner on a block of steel
instead of leaning into the file and pushing it forward with each stroke
I hadn’t lifted a hammer since I was a kid in my Dad’s garage
I could recite Hamlet’s “To Be or Not To Be” soliloquy
follow Sir Gawain into the medieval English woods looking for The Green Knight
write a dissertation
dissecting T.S. Eliot’s poetic imagery
but the calibration marks on the barrel of a micrometer
were a foreign country
the danger
and the laughter in a steel-cutter’s eye another
language
and the foreman rotated his fists in the air like a boxer
as he walked between our machines
according to some law of the Texas streets that wasn’t
in any book
and my mother’s hopes of a PhD in English literature for me went up in smoke
with the floor-quaking smash of a 2-ton drop hammer
and the twinkle in the eye of the Texas foreman yodeling
the lyrics of a Hank Williams song
about the loneliness of train whistles
and whippoorwills
beautiful as Shakespeare
and ex-cons picking up welding rods to learn a way to never go back
to prison
and my feet in steel-toed boots planted on the same earth
where Abraham Lincoln split logs with a heart
that freed the slaves
my brothers on this steel mill shop floor
didn’t have college degrees
just fingers
to hand roses to beautiful women who loved men
with muscle
and hearts that won battles with blast furnace flames
and stinky 1-ton steel bars
and I leaned into that flat file and pushed it forward again and again
smoothing the sharp edges on that block of 4130 steel
and smiled at that foreman
as if Walt Whitman were about to leave his open road and throw open that steel mill tin door
and stride in to ask
for a job.

dark night welder welding royalty free thumbnail

 

 

Read 677 times Last modified on Tuesday, 25 July 2023 09:22
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.