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FRED VOSS

POEMS

350$ A Month
A Cheap Mean Demanding Control Freak Asshole Who Hides in His Office
A Fight that Never Ends 
A Kind of Logic  
A Philosophy You Can Smell
A World in the Making
Afraid to Say One Word to Them
An Old Woman with Nothing but Her next Drag on a Cigarette  
And Why Would We Want To?
As the Bulls Chase Them Down the Streets of Pamplona
As the graveyards fill with all of those who will never move again  
As We Speak of Justice and Virtue  
As your unemployment runs out  
Balls  
Barking a Few Lines
Broken 
Broken Tooth and Shoelace Dream
Dealing With It   
Disowned  
Doing My Duty
Don't Look For it in the Ads on Billboards
Down But Not Out 
Enterprise 
Ethical Giants  
Gear And Bones  
Geek Marries Car-Club Queen
Heading Towards 105 Degrees
I Know This Man  
It Fits the Same into All Our Hands
It's Not Going To Happen  
Jewels  
Lifesavers  
Like the sun that will rise each day  
Living Graveyard  
Loss  
Mysteries 
Mythic  
Nipping Anarchy in the Bud
Numbers Under Plastic  
On the bottom.
One Flew Over the Machine Shop
One Hair's Breadth Away
One More Bottle of Sweet Wine
Only Poets with Clean Hands Win Prizes
Our Brothers
Out of Exile
Paradise  
Pearls  
Qualified
Rolling Dice From the Shoulder
Shadows We Will Never Escape
Shortchanged
Shrunken 
Silence is Golden
Silence Under the Sun  
Something The Job Ad Never Mentions
Something To Get Through A Day & A Life  
Sometimes Maybe The Only Difference is Luck  
Steel and Soul  
Suicide  
The Bedrock of Our Civilization
The Frosting on His Cake
The Greatest Reward of All  
The Heart of the Men Who Carry the World
The Hearts of Lions Pound in the Tall Grass
The Maestro of the Concrete Floor
The Price In The Eyes  
The Whistle of a Great Black Steam Locomotive
The World Shines in My Hand
Tools for Our Sons
Treated Like a Dog For Letting a Man Breathe
The Role of a Lifetime
Two Strangers With Each Others Lives in Their Hands  
Unsighlty
We Do Not Wear One Chain  
We Had Already Been Bombed
We Have Not Even Begun   
Wearing My Skin With Shame
We'd Better Not Lose Touch With It  
When The Sunlight On An Arm Is Like Gold  
Where TV News is Never Seen
Why I Will Never Stop Writing
Winning
Zappos
 

 

Shortchanged

People are told
all their lives what is good for them who to vote for
where to go and what to do as they march
to work and up and down the streets buying things and yet
Dostoevsky
in 4 great huge novels barely scratches the surface
of what it is to be a human being.
People are told what to think
and what it all means and what
to give their lives for by politicians
and bosses and bureaucrats and experts and
teachers and traffic signals and laws
and electric shocks and 30 days in County Jail and armies
that kill millions of people and yet
Shakespeare
barely shines a few rays of light
into the mystery of the human soul.
People use up their lives
thinking they are worth nothing as they follow other people's directions
while the genius of Tennessee Williams
in dozens of plays moves our understanding
of what is really inside us
one fraction of an inch forward.

Winning

No reason
to get up each morning looking and hoping for love
that you will never find no reason
to spend your life wrenching words out of your heart
writing novel after novel after novel that will never get published,
no reason
to leave your heart wide open to a child or parent or lover
who will never love you or to
enter that race and run it over and over when
you will never win or to stare up at the stars night after night
wondering
why we are here when
you will never get an answer no reason
to keep trying to say something in a poem
or painting or song that
can never be said,
except
for that thing inside of us that must never stop trying.

Why I Will Never Stop Writing

These words I write my poems with
have picked up the broken lives of thousands of men
on concrete factory floors
and my own broken life on those concrete floors
in their hands and lifted them up to some kind of light
and transformed them.
They have given me
a way to go,
the only
way I could ever have gone and the only way
I will ever be able to go, the way
I was born for and had to bleed and vomit and weep and
moan and go crazy and want to die for because I didn't
have it,
away
that can never fail me and that is really worth so much more
than fame or money
or immortality.

Suicide

Every time
a homeless man walking a sidewalk crazy with the pain inside him is passed
by us
driving our good cars with our good jobs something dies
inside of us every time
we leave a homeless man crumpled against some wall
on asphalt where he must try to sleep in the cold and go home
to climb into our warm beds something dies
inside of us every time
on some street corner because he has failed to gather enough change
to eat again some man's
head falls as the last drop of hope drains out of him
at age 40 something dies
inside of us as
all our cold cash in those bank vaults
thrives.

Shrunken

Lives
that were once going to leap tall buildings
and save the day
and kill all the bad guys lives
that the universe once revolved around when they were 6
now
looking out of windows in lonely bare apartments
with their 13th beer of the day in their hands wondering
how they got trapped now
staring out of the high plastic windows of steel mills
after 20 years under the brutal eyes of foremen
stunned
as if they can't believe the only life they will ever live
could have ended up there,
lives
that seem to know nothing about how any of this has happened
except
that something
has gone terribly wrong.

Down But Not Out

Maybe the greatest thing about our Sunday pickup softball game
was that
no matter how lonely
or poor
or hungover or strung out or
fresh out of a mental hospital
or jail or
hated by our parents or
stuck-on-a-nowhere-job-that-was-breaking-our-spirit-and-mind
any of us were or
no matter how ugly and small and cockroach-infested of an
apartment
we lived in or
how many times we may have tried to kill ourselves,
any one of us might still
step up to the plate
and hit a home run.
Anyone
who can hit a home run
still has a chance
to turn their life around.

Mysteries

Bikers
with soft spots in their hearts
who would give the shirts off their backs to helpless bums and respectable
computer geniuses in big houses with 3 cars who
could walk by a man starving to death in an alley and feel
nothing and fragile
little ladies who have broken the spirits of their sons
for life and
a man who has never hurt anyone in his life
suddenly murdering 8 co-workers with a gun and
politicians in immaculate suits murdering thousands
and thousands with waves of their pens and
a murderous gang member
become a poet
or painter and machinists
who have always acted like they would step all over
anything throwing bread crumbs
to birds so they can take them to their chicks
born up on machine shop roofbeams people
are never as simple as you think
they are.

Broken

Laid off,
in a little trailer by a guard gate the machinists
are stripped
of tools out of their toolboxes
and photo i.d. badges
and company shirts,
stripped
of incomes,
stripped
of usefulness at 45 or 51 or 55
stripped
and sent out the gate like little boys,
little boys
with families
and mortgages
and lifetimes of pride
on the line
who must now beg
other companies for the right
to be adults.

Dealing With It

Put them away behind a wall put away
the people down on their luck the man
who begins tearing himself apart whenever he cannot get a drink the man
who murdered someone in a rage 11 years ago the men
in those alleys and out on those street corners the man
from out of state who cannot find a job the woman
whose husband beat and robbed her for 8 years
and then disappeared the teenagers
who have not found a reason for anything
but rage and violence the man
who took too much add and can't stop talking about God the woman
who lifts her dress over her head at intersection
crosswalks the man
who is willing to destroy his life for a 15-minute crack high the man
on the bicycle with no teeth who could have been a math genius the man
who steals what he thinks should have been his
to begin with put it away everything
in ourselves that we do not want to have to look at put them
away behind the wall
of a prison and pretend
that God cannot see them.

$350 A MONTH

Rooms
that hold us with nowhere to go rooms
with windows that look out on a city full of a million people
we don't know rooms
with beds that beckon us to die on them
as we sit drinking
before TVS and driving
five days a week to jobs at factories
that are not ours in lives
that are not ours rooms with walls
that are blank because we have nothing inside us to put on
them rooms
that close in on us
with low wages
and wasted years
and dead dreams rooms
that kill us 
and then are rented
to someone else.

UNSIGHTLY

 
Shop floors
black with machine grease and pitted with potholes making forklifts
rock as they roll over them shop floors
with trails ground into them by the heels of machinists
operating the same machine for 20 years shop floors
making the toe
and knee and leg and hip bones
of workers ache with years and years on their concrete hardness shop
floors soaked with the blood of severed fingers and hands shop floors
where men have grown old
giving their best to make parts so buses
or wheelchairs could roll or planes fly or jackhammers pound shop
floors
spat on and kicked and smashed with dropped loads
and gouged with crowbars and covered with metal chips and stained
with rust and oil shop floors
never shown in a company catalogue or photo shop floors
where we spend our lives.

OUR BROTHERS

They had mothers like ours,
fathers
and dreams of being heros and saving the day and playing in the
major league and they
have shaved in mirrors and known the beauty of roses
and cried at funerals and
lifted the beating hearts of children whose lives depended on them
to their breasts and stood
up to fights and half-ton factory parts at the end of 10-ton crane
chains swinging at their heads they
have cherished the warmth of a woman who loved them against their
backs
through long nights of fear and
they have felt something like God dwell in their hearts
and tell them that they were loved,
so why 
must they sit in tiny rooms downtown holding last paychecks
looking out at the hard hard asphalt of alleys
they will soon live in?

ENTERPRISE

The foreman's eyes letting a machinist know
that he will fire him whenever he feels like it all the workers
on the streets who cannot find work all
the cops ready to take them to County Jail all the machinists
racing to turn machine handles to turn out parts
faster then each other so they won't end up
out on the street all
the nightmares
and fear that never lets a man rest
or feel easy all
the stories of crazy bosses ruining lives all
the heart attacks
and fights
and murders and suicides
on machine shop floors all the lifeblood
making the engine that builds our world
race.

PEARLS 

 An old bent nickel with its edges curled up from being 
smashed in the center so hard so many times the brimming-with-tears eyes
of a woman
staring out of a face so slack and dead
from having every dream in her heart beaten out of her 
again and again the old wood sides of abandoned houses on the beach 
weathered until only a few strips' of peeling paint 
remain on them the deeply lined faces of old black 
workers dragging themselves through another 8 hours 
as their bodies scream with decades of pounding and shoving and stacking metal parts 
and drinking and knowing there is no way out for them.
Maybe it's
because life has cut so deeply into them that these things 
are so beautiful. 

PARADISE 

In the 1970s when I was young 
the factories each had their flavor as I drove up to them looking for work.
There were the little tin ones
on gravel with a row of Hell's Angel-type motorcycles in front
of them
and the smell of County Jail and toxic chemicals that I drove by 
slowly 2 or 3 times with a half-sick stomach trying to decide whether or not to go in even though I knew 
I'd probably be hired. 
There were big factories
with proud signs sporting company logos atop their roofs 
on endless asphalt under blazing suns that roared 
with blast furnaces and 10-ton machines that I knew 
were Hells on earth 
and there were the little 1-man machine shops like dental offices with the owners
that would squeeze as many keys or tubes or drill casings 
or slotted steel shafts or hex nuts as possible
out of me for every penny of the low wage they paid me 
and there 
were all those huge aerospace companies with endless buildings on vast lots
that would swallow me up with good pay and then spit me out 
in savings account-draining layoffs until I'd hung on working there long enough
that I wasn't fit to work anywhere else 
and could never leave.
Never again would there be so many poisons 
to pick from. 

ON THE BOTTOM 

It was always the big desks
that the foremen or owners of machine shops sat behind 
in tiny offices as they told me they had no work available 
and that there was no work available anywhere 
and that they had never seen it this bad, 
it was always those desks separating me from them and a job and a paycheck 
that hurt, and the doors
swinging shut behind those owners and foremen as they walked 
out of their offices back into their shops
full of machines and machinists cutting metal, 
doors slamming shut 
like 100 or 200 times before and leaving me 
to walk the sidewalks that could soon 
be my home.  
Desks and doors more important
than my life.  

 BALLS

His wife just a year dead, 
his torso crisscrossed
with the scars of repeated open-heart surgery, 
his legs scarred
where sections of arteries had been cut out to replace 
bad ones in his heart, his walk
slow as a tortoise's as he struggled for breath, 
the old Lead Man always
had a cigarette
hanging out of his mouth or going 
in the ashtray beside his toolbox on the workbench 
where he spent 98% of his 8-hour shift sitting, 
a non-filter Camel cigarette
in defiance of company rules and doctor's orders
that he made sure sent clouds of stinking smoke 
into the face of every machinist
who had to come talk to him, 
proud of that deadly 
non-filter cigarette 
like it was the last 
of his manhood. 

LIVING GRAVEYARD

All the crosses
on churches surrounded by vacant lots and boarded up 
stores all the crosses
of black iron sticking up out of the roofs 
of churches in neighborhoods where black children 
who will never have jobs play all the crosses 
sticking up starkly out of landscapes
of burned-out buildings and useless 
rusted-out cars in yards and hopeless 
beaten eyes staring out of apartment windows covered 
by iron security bars all the crosses
above black asphalt streets full of drugs and cruizing 
police cars and men
to whom jail is a way of life who sit
on aluminum chairs on porches or in backyards like 13-year-olds 
the world will never let grow up all the crosses
on churches surrounded
by gunfire and people living 5 to a room and lost 
wandering beggars screaming obscenities at the wind all the crosses 
surrounded by all these people
who might as well be nailed 
to them

LIFESAVERS

Just
a clickclack of a secretary's highheels 
across the concrete factory floor just 
a scent of her perfume in the steel dust air just 
a memory of the way his mother
touched him the last time he saw her or the beautiful checkout lady 
at the supermarket smiles at him just
a memory of the way his last lover held his cock 
in her mouth so long ago or
a green tattoo of a naked lady dancing
on his arm as he turns a machine handle or the flesh 
of that beautiful young girl in that picture on the side 
of his toolbox
drawn gratefully into the embrace of the soul 
of a machinist who must work
the rest of his life away inside the tin walls of shops 
full of nothing but the hardness
of men, 
may be enough to make the difference between life 
and death.

WE'D BETTER NOT LOSE TOUCH WITH IT

All of the paintings
and the symphonies and poems expressing 
what we are inside ourselves
do not seem so important next to satellite dishes 
beaming around-the-world images blown up 
on 5-foot-high tv screens and 100 tv channels 
of endless entertainment and personalities 
chattering and smiling and bombs
blowing up cars and buildings in Dolby Sensurround Stereo on 100-foot- wide 
technicolor screens and the soaring arches
of bridges and freeway overpasses and huge sports arenas 
full of people with scoreboards exploding in miraculous 
computer-generated graphics and airplanes 
zooming people around the world all of the paintings 
and the symphonies and poems expressing
what we are inside ourselves 
do not seem so important at all until 
we remember
that what is inside ourselves 
can still blow all those things up 
into radioactive dust
in a few minutes time.

DISOWNED

Just because the cold asphalt of an alley has been his bed 
does not mean we will let him stand on our doorstep just because 
he is forced to roam the streets all day as an animal
does not mean that
we must remember when he was not one just because 
he must beg on streetcorners with no one in the world who cares 
does not mean that
he can come to us for help just because
he has been stripped of dignity and privacy and hope 
does not mean that we must
feel sorry for him just because 
he has come back to us
doesn't mean that we have to see him or talk to him 
or let him in just because
he was once a part of the family of man 
does not mean he is
anymore.

LOSS 

The money stacks in the banks
as the hands of the homeless tremble holding the cardboard saying they
are hungry and the little change they have collected all day the money
stacks in the banks
as great unknown poets lie dying with nothing under trees 
and ageing factory workers work longer and longer hours 
until their bones throb with aching just to keep cheap tiny rooms and 
men being evicted from apartments
scream and strike their little girls again and again and 60-year-old 
men who have never been in trouble 
ruin their lives
going back to companies that laid them off 
with guns the money stacks in the banks as the children grow thin and pale 
with nothing to eat and jobless men 
who once owned houses sit in backyards 
all day with bottles and eyes 
like tombstones the money stacks higher and higher in the banks but it will never buy 
back our souls. 

SOMETIMES MAYBE THE ONLY DIFFERENCE IS LUCK

Sometimes
they are locked up and retreat into corners of padded rooms 
and never talk again and sometimes
they run companies for years sometimes
they babble to themselves as they walk the streets in rags and sometimes
they drive Porsches
in $1000 suits sometimes
they cry and cringe in bed for the rest of their lives and sometimes 
they take over countries and give speeches on the radio
to millions of people sometimes
they are too scared to talk or look at
another human being ever again and sometimes 
they hold the lives of thousands of employees
In their hands sometimes
they draw knifeblades through the veins in their wrists and sometimes
they order thousands of people to be fired 
or killed sometimes
they think they are Napoleon and sometimes 
they are Napoleon.

MYTHIC

Machinists
who cover their workbenches with photos of themselves 
crouched in trunks and gloves ready to go 10 rounds in their Olympic
Auditorium boxing days machinists
who cover their toolboxes with photos of the 6 or 7 vintage 
1940s or 1950s automobiles
they have restored to as-new perfection and drive 
to work one after the other
on various weeks 
and machinists
with vans full of surfboards who every day after work drive to coves 
to ride to perfection the waves rolling in under setting suns 
whether showing off their cars in parking lots
or telling stories about hitting men in the old days 
or leaned back on benches in the sun at lunch
describing the feel of those perfect boards on those perfect waves 
these men swagger and smile
larger than life
surrounded by machinists they are glad to grace 
with their stardom.

 JEWELS 

The old black workers 
stand in towmotors or walk across the concrete floor in the paint shop 
or weave between machines in the machine shop 
in old overalls and there is something about their eyes 
set in those heads gone gray 
and faces with lines beaten into them 
something about their eyes 
on top of those bodies so slack and slow 
like they have had every bone in them broken 
3 times something like a diamond forged out of the massive pressures of their lives 
  something that shines with more beauty and value 
than anything else in the building. 

WHEN THE SUNLIGHT ON AN ARM IS LIKE GOLD

Sometimes a bum
in the thinnest cheapest clothes can shuffle 
past and catch you with a look in his eye so glowing that you suddenly know he is grateful 
for the sky and the worn shoes on his feet 
and the light of the moon and the stars and the sinking sun, 
truly grateful for the foghorns and the bellowing horns of the great ships 
on the sea and the pigeons clustered on the balcony of that apartment on 1st Street 
and each and every one of the tomorrows ahead of him 
and how good it feels to move his arms in the air
and every drop of food that enters his mouth 
and the earth under his feet
and the light in every living eye
and the smell of every green thing growing until 
you feel poor 
indeed. 

WE DO NOT WEAR ONE CHAIN

We barely make enough money on our machines 
to keep roofs over our heads
but we are not slaves.
The bosses treat us as if we have no choice 
but to let them have their way with us 
but we are not slaves.
We drag ourselves to work each morning exhausted 
with 60 or 70-hour work weeks
to jobs that we hate
as they kill us with toil and humiliation and hopelessness 
but we do not wear chains.
We are not slaves.
We have nowhere to go but to other 
machine shops where they will treat us no better 
and pay us no more
as we wonder each day if we might be laid off 
to fatten the wallets of men who drive Cadillacs 
and what will happen
if we get sick
or our wives or our children get sick 
with no insurance
but no-one has a piece of paper saying that they own us. 
We are not slaves.
There is nothing ahead for us
but more and more pain and fear as we grow old 
and more and more cornered
and the bosses use us up 
until they throw us away 
but we are not slaves.

I KNOW THIS MAN

In the alley
I meet him:
a man who has had his humanity stripped from him 
a man who has had his sanity stripped from him, 
his wife
and his 42 years of dignity 
stripped from him, 
all the love and care of his mother and father 
wasted,
all the child who was once 6 and had every present he could wish 
for under the Christmas tree
gone.
Invisible,
he lifts lids and picks through garbage, 
keeps his eyes on the ground and scurries 
along walls like an animal, 
and all the finest most brilliant arguments in the world 
will never convince me that he deserves to be there, 
for he is me 
if I had not somehow stumbled across that job 
on the luckiest day of my life

IT'S NOT GOING TO HAPPEN

Enduring yet another of our weekly 
Self Managed Work Team meetings
we machinists all sat silent around the conference table 
until Rick
the centerless grinder operator shoved his chair back 
against the wall and stuck his chin out and said, 
You know, if Goodstone really wants us to manage things
like this was our own machine shop, why don't they have all 
those managers come to our meeting -- have them come here and 
stand against the wall and we'll PICK all the ones we want 
to get rid of -- we don't need all those managers, they don't 
do anything to get out parts, they're not hands-on production 
like us, they're just DEAD WEIGHT -- they're all just each 
other's relatives or uncles or somebody's wife or friend! 
They're makin' $1,000 a week and they're hiding each other, 
protecting each other's asses because they know they're not 
needed and they don't want to end up WORKING AT JACK IN THE 
BOX FLIPPING BURGERS!
Get 'em in here and we'll let 'em know we don't need 'em! 
We'll reduce costs!
WELL KICK THEIR ASSES OUT THE DOOR!"
Some machinists take the term "Self Managed" very seriously.

AS WE SPEAK OF JUSTICE AND VIRTUE

We are thieves
as the man who wanted a job starves in the alley, 
we are thieves
lying on rich soft beds looking innocently up at ceilings, 
we are thieves
sipping drinks on balconies looking at sunsets 
depositing money from good jobs in banks 
lying on sundecks on world cruizes 
slipping buttery lobster onto tongues 
trying on $100 earrings, 
as the men who wanted a job starves in the alley 
we are thieves
taking communion in churches 
studying Picasso in classes
lifting beautiful children up to our hearts full of love, 
in voting booths, in the finest country clubs, 
with a cabinet full of civic honors, 
playing a game of chess on a glass table, 
we are thieves
born to the best families, 
thieves
that no policeman will ever arrest, 
thieves
home free
as the man who wanted a job starves in the alley.

THE PRICE IN THE EYES

As I entered the steel mill at age 23, 
far more frightening
than the slam of the 2-ton drop hammer 
down onto steel to make the concrete floor quake 
and the heart jump
was the look in the eye of the man 
who had squatted before it for 34 years, 
the rage
and the humor
and the toughness to go on with his trembling jaw 
and bloodshot eye.
Far more frightening
than the blast furnace with its white-hot flame 
turning a ton of steel red-hot
as it roared and seared 
the nostrils and lips
was the look in the eye at the man who tied tended it 
for 37years, 
the pain
and the strength and the brutality and the desperation 
of somehow making it through
the noise and the shock waves and the stink and the heat 
of the steel mill
as his hands turned into gnarled claws 
and his back bent
and his fingertips shook. 
Far more frightening
than all the huge machines and cut steel and flame and poundings
between tin walls 
were the eyes
of these men
who had somehow made it through 
like I wanted to make it through, 
who knew so many terrible 
gut and heart and soul-wrenching secrets 
I would have to learn.

NUMBERS UNDER PLASTIC

After 10 or 20 or 30 years
of giving all the strength and life in our fingers
and backs and hearts to the machines and the parts they cut 
we are employee numbers
in a seniority list under plastic 
on our workbenches. 
After all the years
of coming back to the same corners of this tin building 
again and again until we wanted to scream
we are numbers 
in a seniority list, 
numbers
to be chopped off in the next layoffs
by upper managers who have never shaken our hands 
or looked into our eyes
or learned one bit about us, 
numbers
stacked
and ready to be chopped off 
by one third or one half, 
ready
to be sent out the door by security guards 
to once again become people 
so human
in the desperation and fear and panic 
that has no number.

SOMETHING TO GET THROUGH A DAY AND A LIFE

In any machine shop a machinist may often be thinking of the sea
and of how he touches something a billion years old 
when he drops a hook into it, 
in any machine shop where a foreman holds the men 
in the cruel deadly grip of his stare 
full of the power to fire
a machinist may often be thinking 
of the early morning sun
touching the jagged face of a mountain so much older 
than man
or of a horse
running down a racetrack with something in the wild fury 
of his legs and eyes
that Man will never capture 
or of a star
so bright and sharp in the black desert sky
that he knows how small a foreman 
really is, 
in any machine shop
where machinists are trapped between tin walls working away their so
brief lives
a machinist may often be thinking 
of any little bit of eternity 
he can get his mind on.

GEARS AND BONES

There are men
on machines who run those machines all their lives, 
who crouch
beside their green greasy sides under their huge barrel heads
and force
the worn teeth of their handles to turn the worn teeth of their
dial gears 
by popping their elbows
and grunting
the way we have seen them do it ten thousand times, 
who know
the feel of their machines' heads and tables 
in their fists squeezed tight around their handles 
so well
that they can nudge them to perfect thousandth of an inch settings
by the feel in their bones, 
who
can make those machines do things no-one else can come close
to making them do
as their smooth effortless grace turns metal cutting 
into an art form, 
until
when those men finally retire 
it seems like no man should ever again 
run those machines, 
like they should be retired
and left in the corners of tin buildings to await the grave 
too.

STEEL AND SOUL 

 The rich people walking around the sculptures in the museum 
gaze at their mammoth steel sides with eyes 
full of refined good taste 
but even if they went to this exhibit 
1,000 times I don't believe they could begin to understand 
these 20-foot tall 2-inch-thick walls of steel 
twisted into elliptical teepees by Richard Serra. 
All the art classes and all the art museums around the world they have the money 
and leisure to go to would not allow them to really understand. 
A man just let out of prison 
after 3 months in solitary or a press operator who has sat on a stool in a tiny tin building 
stamping out a million gaskets 
would have a better chance.
A janitor
with a mop in his calloused hands 
or a child of 5 or a man begging for quarters on a sidewalk 
would have a better chance
would have a better chance of understanding these simple twisted rust-colored steel walls.
A man who has done nothing but wash pots and pans all his life
would have a better chance. 
Maybe that is the price 
the rich pay. 

A KIND OF LOGIC

When the heads to our machines are breaking down 
one by one causing our machines
to be idle for months and months waiting for parts some machinist
will ask
why Goodstone Aircraft Company doesn't order parts for the heads in
advance
so the heads can be fixed the same day they break down 
and another machinist will look shocked and aghast and answer,
"No! No! Goodstone COULDN'T do that - THAT WOULD MAKE SENSE!"
When Goodstone Aircraft Company lays off some of our top machinists
who happen to be at the bottom of the seniority list 
for a few months in the winter
to avoid paying them their 2 week Christmas-to-New Years holiday pay
and those top machinists don't come back 
when Goodstone tries to recall them, 
some machinist will ask, 
Is it worth it, laying them off and losing all that skill and all 
that good work they'd've done? WHY DOESN'T
GOODSTONE JUST PAY THEM
THE HOLIDAY PAY?!"
and another machinist will get a horrified look on his
face and answer,
Nol No way! Goodstone would NEVER do something like that - THAT WOULD
MAKE TOO MUCH SENSE! I"
Our only chance of making sense out of Goodstone Aircraft Company
is by reminding ourselves every so often that they don't 
make sense.

ETHICAL GIANTS

We machinists gather in the conference room 
and view the Goodstone Aircraft Company interactive video  about ethics.
The video presents to us and asks us to discuss 
the reasons why informing on our fellow employees  is the ethical thing to do, 
why
our qualms about informing are not ethical, 
giving us 
many phone numbers to various managers and offices and ombudsmen 
so that we may inform personally or anonymously 
on behavior inconsistent with company rules 
and thus maintain
the company's and our ethical integrity.
Apparently Goodstone Aircraft Company
considers its filling up the office buildings with hundreds of air 
conditioners
while the machine shop has none
and its consistent lying to us about our hard work preserving our jobs
and its filling of our building with toxic fumes 
and its laying off of 50-year-old men 
with families and mortgages
to the streets where there are no jobs 
so that rich upper managers can get bonuses  highly ethical. 

AS THE GRAVEYARDS FILL WITH ALL OF THOSE WHO WILL NEVER MOVE AGAIN

(for Robert DeLaura)  
Always the great ships full of cargo moving to port
as starving saxophone players put all their strength into the notes 
that come out of their horns
and old ladies die of loneliness in spotlessly clean 
apartments
and no one reads the rows of books of poetry  in the public library always
the million dollar loads of goods moving toward port on great ships
on the sea a half mile out
as the pen drops out of the dead drunk hand of a Hemingway 
who cannot get a word published
and no one understands 
the rose
or the riffs of Charlie Parker
or the way the fog hangs around the steeple of the Villa Riviera 
or the pain
in the eye of another human being always the great ships 
are moving their tons of cargo to the port without stop 
as the fingers of an unsung poet
ending his life at 36 
stop forever
and the backs of ageing workers stiffen as they wonder 
where their lives went and everywhere 
people sit in rooms without one reason 
to really want to be alive always
the great ships
on the sea full of millions in cargo moving toward port.  

LIKE THE SUN THAT WILL RISE EACH DAY

Each day our hands throw the same machine levers 
and turn the same machine wheels
the same way we have a million times before
as we swallow 6 or 7 gulps of water out of the drinking fountain 
every hour or so like we have
10,000 times before and rest
our butts and hands against sheet metal workbench edges watching
our machines run for years and years and years until 
those workbench edges are shiny, 
wearing
paths into the concrete floors where we walk 
back and forth from handle to handle hundreds of times 
each day, 
dreaming
the same daydreams of breasts  and frosty schooners of beer and the soft bodies 
of our wives next to us at night,  sweeping the same oily chips across the same floors 
into the same piles
with the same rocking motions of our bodies as our hands 
grip the same spots on the same broom handles 
and we whistle the same melodies, until
we seem as old
and unstoppable
as the tide that has inched its way up the sand
for a billion years.  

AS YOUR UNEMPLOYMENT RUNS OUT

After looking out the window of a cheap room 
at the alley
where you may soon 
live, 
raindrops 
are not the same, 
the faces of people begging for quarters 
are not the same, 
the way your Dad held your hand when you were 2 
and the rose 
are not the same, 
the tombstones in the graveyard 
and the cold eyes of the rich 
and the breasts of women 
and all the Indians dead of alcohol and broken promises 
and the gold-plated trim 
on Cadillacs 
of executives who let people die in the streets 
and the words on classroom chalkboards 
justifying it 
are not the same, 
the locks 
on the doors of churches 
and the meaning 
of sunlight on the grass 
and blood spilled out of veins 
and cocktails in 40th story penthouses 
and all that is really important on the face of this earth, 
are never quite the same 
again.

SILENCE UNDER THE SUN 

Out in back of the factory I lean 
against a 110-year-old brick wall with a Mexican 
eating lunch.
L.A., 
one man who dropped out of English Literature Ph.D. school
and another who can barely speak a word of English, 
a half hour
away from the rattling pounding growling machines 
and this is my graduate school:
feet and butt on asphalt learning
that no one can ever really rise higher than this moment 
dropping food into a mouth and being glad 
for the sun
for the shoes on our feet 
for the children who need us 
our ears
that can hear music and our fingers 
that can feel the breasts of our wives 
for raisins
and chili peppers
and a roof over our heads where we sleep at night 
for Van Gogh
and the crack of a bat in Dodger Stadium 
for our fathers
wrenches
and each breath we take for the clear water 
and laughter
and Charlie Chaplin's cane for a chance 
and the goodness
at the bottom of the heart of a man and all 
we do not need one word
to share.

AN OLD WOMAN WITH NOTHING BUT HER NEXT DRAG ON A CIGARETTE

I watch the freight train slowly pull past 
the old lady
smoking on the loading dock of the factory after packing 
her 10,000th gasket of the day
into a cardboard box and I know 
that not only has the train 
passed her by
with her so tired world-weary face 
but so has
3,000 years of western civilization
3,000 years
of all the decency and enlightenment and advance our noblest 
minds have wrought, 
as her old baggy-eyed cross-hatched-with-lines-like-knife-slashes face
sticks out
from under the rolled-up steel loading dock door 
and sneaks a peak
at a distant mountain she blows a furtive puff of smoke toward 
Marx
and Shakespeare and Jesus Christ and Rerrtrandt and Plato 
and all the tears all the mothers have ever shed for all 
their sons and daughters
and all our prayers 
and Nirvanas
and churches where no human being is ever supposed to be 
tossed away like trash
have passed her by
as she wonders how she will keep a roof over her heed 
on $6 an hour
and no chance of a raise 
or health insurance
after a lifetime of working until every bone in her body 
screams.

THE GREATEST REWARD OF ALL

After 22 years of the filth of steel round and bar stock 
on my hands
the flames
of furnaces leaving me seared on low wages 
unemployment
in a 10 x 10-foot room In a neighborhood full of vicious 
pit-bulls
I may not have one award 
or trophy, 
after firings
and layoffs and quitting a steel mill to keep from going over 
the edge
into nervous breakdown, 
after machines
heavier than locomotives slamming and hammering my 
heart
until it leapt after 
22 years
of getting down on my knees to scrape oil and chips off the walls
of the insides of machines or throwing machine handles cutting steel
into parts so fast all day my fingers ended up nearly paralyzed 
I may
not have more than a few T-shirts 
I wear to go to work to get my hands dirty 
yet again, 
but at least 
I have never once in my life had to tell one man 
what to do.

THE HEART OF THE MEN WHO CARRY THE WORLD

I have sweat too long with my arms around a bar of steel to wonder if it is real,
I have smiled from the bottom of my heart too many times
with other men
as a factory quit-work buzzer finally blared
on a Friday to care
if some men think
they have risen above us I have seen
the courage in the eyes of too many old men
over grinding wheels
to ask
if work
is noble I have
seen the look in the eyes of a man on his last unemployment check
too many times
to debate
economics I have the stink
of steel dust and burned brass too deep
in my soul to forget
that the trains
and trucks and gears of this world could not run
without us I have left
the heart of the men who carry the world
on their backs too long
in mine
to listen
to anyone who feels they are less important
than a bottom line.

TWO STRANGERS WITH EACH OTHER'S LIVES IN THEIR HANDS

So much of your life is set 
in these little office rooms
where strangers interview you over plain bare desks. 
So much is determined 
by a few minutes slightly sweaty awkward 
in chairs where you try so hard to sit like there is no doubt 
in your mind
about the way you have to spend your life 
on machines.
So much of your life is given away and set
by a few questions
from a stranger with stiffly crossed legs 
or straight uncomfortable back 
who may want to smoke 
or break a pencil in two 
or scream until the walls tremble, 
who may wish he could go back 30 years in his life 
and do it all differently, 
who may not really know
what he is doing in that room anymore than you do 
trying not to drum his fingers 
on the desk or let one trace of weakness 
show
under pictures on the walls of fueling nozzles 
or submarine valves 
or jackhammers 
as you both stare at each other 
squirming inside
knowing that you may have to look at each other for the rest of your careers
without ever getting one bit closer to really knowing why.

THE MAESTRO OF THE CONCRETE FLOOR

The janitor
of the machine shop swept his mop
back and forth across the concrete floor darkened with years and years of
machine grease, 
he 
held that rag mop rapt as he washed it out and it dripped over a concrete 
sink and then 
laid it down
again across the pitted cracked concrete floor massaging that floor, 
loving it with muscular arms 
in spotless blue denim sleeves, 
stroking it
like the most inspired violin virtuoso until 
he seemed to hear 
a music rising up out of that chipped blackened concrete as he leaned his 
head toward the 
wood handle of the mop 
and took his swaying 
rhythmic steps, 
a music
of men working their hearts out over machines so their children 
might smile, 
a music
of sweat and aching bones and bent screaming backs and spirit 
that could never be broken, 
a music
that would never be heard in the highest offices 
of the richest executives, 
a music
that deserved the cleanest floor 
on earth.

AND WHY WOULD WE WANT TO?

We are all fools
in our suits
in our theories
in our rooms with our awards and prizes on our mantles
with our I.Q.s
and our odometers and opinions and encyclopedias we are all fools
in our judge's robes
and equations and one-tenth-of-one-thousandth micrometer 
calibration marks every last 
one of us without a doubt an utter 
fool
to the day we die in our weighings 
and our slide sections and our poet 
or pope 
hats
before an audience of billions 
or without a friend in the world in a little lonely 
cheap room over a railroad track 
we all 
know
that all we can ever really hope for is one moment of beauty 
we do not deserve 
like the rose 
like the notes of Chopin 
like the yellow of Van Gogh 
like all
that we know we will never 
understand.

TOOLS FOR OUR SONS

At the sheet metal workbench
where we machinists set parts
to check the depth of their holes
with dial indicators is an old 3-legged chair,
a chair
much older than any of us
with its gold-with-decades-of-oil-and-grime
wood
seat cracked into 5 pieces loose but still bolted into a steel frame
that looks like it could have been forged by some pre-WWI
blacksmith,
a chair
old with no purpose but to remind us
why
we keep these old wrenches
and calculators and hammers from our fathers and grandfathers
in our toolboxes,
why
we will never exchange them for any others,
why
there will always be something more important than a cut
oily drilled steel part
and that is the man
who made it.

QUALIFIED

The supervisor
could look in a machinist's eyes from 50 feet away and tell
if he was fucking off.
The supervisor paced aisles
keeping track of the size of chip piles at machinist's machines
and seeming to know
by sixth sense exactly when
they meant a machinist was running a job
at 25% instead of 100%.
He always seemed to know when a machinist appeared
to be working but was actually
half-asleep and just going through motions accomplishing
nothing, or when a machinist had snuck back 15 minutes late
from a bar on lunchbreak,
or when a machinist staring at a blueprint for an hour
was actually picturing the beautiful bodies of women in his mind.
There is no greater asset to a supervisor 
than having been 
the biggest fuckoff 
in the shop 
when he was a machinist.

A FIGHT THAT NEVER ENDS

After nine and a half hours on a concrete floor
machinists
may be swaying on their feet,
blinking their eyes and shaking their heads
trying to snap back into consciousness
before their machines
as their hands go through movements they have already made a thousand times 
that day, 
tired
in every bone 
in their bodies, 
throwing open the big steel doors in the front and back of the shop
so they can breathe
as a breeze turns the sweat on their backs 
cold 
and they shuffle back and forth on the concrete floor to keep from going stiff, 
coming back
at their machines again and again to grab steel like boxers 
in 15 rounds 
of championship fights, 
boxers 
drawing on every ounce of nerve and strength they have left inside them 
because they want to go 
the distance.

THE HEARTS OF LIONS POUND IN TALL GRASS

One day
is all we are given one rising
of the sun in the morning when there is nothing
in the universe that is not part
of us one anvil
ready for the pounding of the hammer upon
red-hot metal one noon
burning on the asphalt all around us in the one life
we-have to live one train horn
through your window between dreams
at 3:00 am one love that heals
every wound
if you let it one stretching
of God's finger across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel one
curling
of the green leaf on top of the tomato in your windowsill one evening
when you first touch the fingertip of the one you will love 
for the rest of your life the hands 
of all the clocks and the pages 
of all the calendars are powerless 
to give us more than this one day 
when the hearts
of lions pound in tall grass and young girls 
look into mirrors to suddenly see 
beauty
and the tapping of the last steps
your father ever took toward you 
never fades.

AS THE BULLS CHASE THEM DOWN THE STREETS OF PAMPLONA

In their 40s and 50s
machinists drink and eat until they have huge
beerbellies,
emptying the machine shop vending machines of their
supplies
of greasy potato and corn chips and stuffing them 
into their mouths along with jelly donuts 
and endless candy bars as their machines run, 
wearing polka dot and rainbow suspenders 
to hold their pants up around ever-swelling bellies, 
raising their blood pressure until their faces are beet-red 
by going into rages every time a bolt strips out, 
sucking toxic fumes deep into their lungs 
and laughing about how everyone's got to die someday anyway 
until
they have massive heart attacks. 
Then
they reappear
in 4 months or 6 months pale 
as sheets and 50 Ibs. thinner with absolutely flat 
bellies,
no longer drinking, 
no longer smoking,
no longer stuffing jelly donuts into their mouths, 
no longer going into rages over stripped bolts, 
but raising
their shirts and pants legs to show 
the huge scars of quadruple bypass surgeries 
to younger machinists 
and stick their chins out like war heros.
For each stage of life 
there is a different way 
to be macho.

WE HAVE NOT EVEN BEGUN

There are unknown men
living in tiny rooms with murphy beds who write incredible
poems
that turn agony
into gold unknown
men
who won battles with bottles so terrible
just rising
in the morning to shave in a mirror is a miracle
men
who climb out of guffers out of psyche wards
out of nightmares
only the greatest could climb out of
who sit unknown over chessboards in cheap rooms with
nothing but victory
more incredible than any 5-star general's men 
who nearly crack 
with hours
and hours of overtime on machines that become pounding 
grinding stinking cut-steel hells 
to give sons Christmases that will make them believe 
for the rest of their lives 
men
who will never see their name in a paper men 
who die unknown in cities 
all over this earth where Napoleons 
and Caesars and Reagans and Carnegies 
live forever
and we have not even begun 
to learn.

WEARING MY SKIN WITH SHAME

No burn
from a blast furnace flame in my face
was ever as horrible
as seeing a Mexican machine operator jump
out of my way
like a scared dog,
no quaking
of my heart to the slamming down of a 2-ton drop hammer
as sickening
as the flinching
and hunched-over scrambling of a Mexican
out of my way when I walk down the aisle between our machines, 
no severed finger 
as bad as his head hung down 
like he has already been whipped 
when I am around, no smashed toe 
or twisted back or lost eye 
could ever be as painful 
as knowing white skin 
like mine
has been used to break the spirit 
of a human being.

THE WHISTLE OF A GREAT BLACK STEAM LOCOMOTIVE

I have wanted to work until I sweat
because the sunlight was touching the rock on top of the mountain 
at 6 am
and I have 2 arms and 2 hands 
and there are little boys 
in backyards
waiting for their fathers to give them basketballs 
and beautiful waitresses smile walking the floors of diners 
I have wanted to work 
because no boss needs to tell me to work 
as a sun
rises out of a sea
and an old man tells his grandson how it felt to pull the rope that blew the whistle 
of a great black steam locomotive 
as the birds sing
a shadow moves across the face of Mars 
a gypsy
looks into a crystal ball while a man 
drives the steel stakes that hold the circus tent 
into the ground and the smell 
of the sea wafts
through green curtains to the bed of an old woman on her last 
day
I have wanted to work
the way the bear's muscle ripples on his back 
a great marlin leaps 
out of the waves a brush stroke 
like none ever seen before suddenly crosses 
a canvas but most of all 
I have wanted to work because no one 
told me to.

IT FITS THE SAME INTO ALL OUR HANDS

This
aluminum shopping cart we push
down the aisles of shiny supermarkets
to buy
$20-a-pound lobster
can be a last chance
for a man who used to own a home and have
a family it
can hold the cans tie desperately collects
for recycling center dimes to try to claw up
out of the street or
the baby
that is all a woman has left as she pushes it past the fence
of a downtown drop forge factory toward the street corner
she will beg on this same
aluminum shopping cart
we toss
ice cream and steak and mushroom sauce into
can be
the last dream
of a man or a woman who clutches it
in an alley
or beside a railroad track as the sun goes down
and they curl up on the asphalt
or gravel under it
how
can we hold it so comfortably in our hands
in these supermarkets full of so much
and not know
that we are dying
in the streets?

A WORLD IN THE MAKING

We
are Russians named Vladimir El Salvadorans
named Manuel ex-cons
off of boxcars from Arizona named
Clyde between
these red-brick walls we are a world
in the making on grinding
wheels welding
rods our time cards
in the rack beside the time clock we
are from East L.A.
Long Beach
Guatemala formerly communist Hungary and we
pick up hammers and
cutting tools and on this concrete floor we are elbow to
elbow
sweating the same sweat 
grunting the same grunt 
looking out the same window toward freedom 
bleeding
the same blood aching 
in the same bones for these 8 hours 
our sons
have the same eyes our tongues 
the same laughs and the world 
is closer
together than any presidents or kings have ever brought it 
as the Romanian
and the Englishman and the Japanese 
who was interred as a child in a California concentration camp
during WW2 and the man 
who lived in the hills in Mexico and a poet 
from a middle-class suburb strain 
to turn the wheels 
of machines.

NIPPING ANARCHY IN THE BUD

The supervisor
has already told me emphatically
how hot the job he has given me
is
and how much the company president demands
that it be done NOW
and I am now working like crazy
grunting
and sweating over my machine table throwing elbows
and furiously grabbing nuts and bolts and wrenches
as fast as I can.
Still
the supervisor comes back
to tell me one more time how hot the job is
and that I'd better get it done NOW
even though I am already working as hard and fast as I
can.
A man working his ass of just because he wants to 
might be dangerous.

A CHEAP MEAN DEMANDING CONTROL-FREAK ASSHOLE WHO HIDES IN HIS OFFICE

We are having a meeting
in the Screw & Foxx machine Company lunch room to evaluate 
our company and ourselves because Goodstone Aircraft Company 
is one of our customers 
and is requiring that we have this meeting 
as part of their contract with us 
and Larry 
the owner
has asked us machinists how we can facilitate a democratic atmosphere 
between employees and management. 
I think we should have a suggestion box!" 
Luis shouts out 
and grins
and immediately all us machinists are grinning at the thought 
of having a suggestion box 
we can fill with anonymous slips of paper 
asking for $10-an-hour raises 
and accusing the owner
of being a cheap mean demanding control-freak asshole who hides in his office
"Yeah!"
"Yeah!"
we are saying but Larry' s face has turned white
and his mouth has dropped open
as he stares at the ceiling and then shakes his head
and says,
"I'm afraid I'd be scared to read some of the things in a suggestion box."
Democratic atmosphere is one thing 
Actually giving us a voice is another.

A PHILOSOPHY YOU CAN SMELL

I'm sitting in the Tooling Manager's office
listening
to all the arguments he is making so he won't have to buy
the $1.12 drill
I need to do my job when
for the first time I notice the plaque
hanging on his wall above his head:
Some days you're the Pigeon... Some days you're the Statue".
For the first time I begin to understand his unrelenting mean tight-assed cheapness:
It must be rough
to evaluate life
strictly in terms of shit. 

HEADING TOWARD 105 DEGREES

Ignacio and I are standing under blue 

5 ft long x 2 ft square air conditioners

hanging by chains from ceiling 
of the machine shop.
They haven't been turned on in the 4 years 
we have worked here 
through summers so hot we staggered 
and couldn't see straight.
I heard they used to run them 10 or 15 years ago," 
Ignacio says
then shakes his head as we look up at them on a morning 
when it is already 90 degrees.
We make $12 an hour and neither of us has had a dime's raise in 4 years.
When we ask for a $1.00 drill
so we don't have to spend an hour trying to re-grind an old one by hand
the manager looks at us like we're trying to rob him. 
All the machine shops are the same now. 
Shit, if it was like it was 20 years ago 
we'd be makin' $20 an hour now!
They all treat us like shit, like peons, won't give us nothin', 
treat us like shit......"
he spits on the blackened concrete floor
and I nod
and we both look down at the floor for a moment
then up at the air-conditioner
then return to our machines
where we wait to change parts in their vises when they stop running 
he 53 and 
I 51 
trying to stand
as tall as we did 25 years ago when 
a machinist was treated almost like a surgeon 
or an architect
trying to stand as tall as any human being when 
he still has all his dignity.

THE WORLD SHINES IN MY HAND

This brass
oilfield nut in my hand shines
with the sparkle in the eye of every man who ever lifted a
load for a living
this brass 6-sided nut the size of my fist
drips with clear cutting oil and shines
like every sun that ever rose
over a skyscraper
or a lion
every shout
of a man in knee-high rubber boots striding
the length of the steel bed of a 100-foot-long machine
at 6 am
I toss it in the machine shop air and it flips and lands
in my palm and shines
with every swing of sledgehammer down from above
a man's shoulder
to drive spike into rail
each drop
of water squeezed from a sponge so it flows down the face
of a prizefighter
in the middle of a title fight each glow
in the eye of a child
seeing its first toy train
I grip in my fist the sharp edges of this brass I have cut
and it shines
the way every man has
who has ever done his best with a shovel
in a ditch or his lungs
on an opera stage
it shines
like Louis Armstrong's trumpet
holding a note that makes a woman put down the knife
over her veins and want
to live again or
the ring
a man slips onto the finger of the woman he will love
for the rest of his life.

ONE MORE BOTTLE OF SWEET WINE

On the clearest
L. A. mornings as a Santana desert breeze blows across downtown 
at dawn
and clouds of smoke from the smokestack of the drop forge factory
makeshadows
floating across the windows of a flophouse hotel
I lookout
the rolled-up tin door
of this factory
and seem to see
the wrinkles
on the backs of the hands of the old man pushing a shopping
cart
full of tin cans up the bridge over the L. A. river
a mile away the pebbles
on the face of the half-moon hanging in the sky above 
a bag factory
the shine
of the saxophone in the hands of a man blowing              
a great Charlie Parker riff 
on a fire escape  
across town  
as panenderias  
full of sweet bread   
and beauty parlours 
open     
and poor old ladies will be made pretty again 
and teenage gangbanger Mexican boys 
put their fingers around the freshest bread in town 
rather than load
bullets into guns that will kill
and all the old men
finally push their carts of cans into recycling centres 
for dimes
so they can have one more bottle 
of sweet wine.

WHERE TV NEWS IS NEVER SEEN

For weeks in a machine shop
a man will hear nothing but the turning of arbors
gears
cutting tools as aluminum or steel is chewed
"Good mornings"
talk of aching bones
a mill man
telling how he danced with Marilyn Monroe when he was in the navy
in 1951
the ride
of a 1959 Cadillac the swing
of the bat of Willie Mays
an old man
on an engine lame asked, "How's it going?" answer
"Well, it's going... .that's what counts,"
like he was a Socrates
a Buddha
of drilled holes and ribbons of shaved steel
for weeks and maybe months
inside the blank tin walls of a machine shop a man
will hear the splashing
of coolant the laughter
of men growing old together trying to bring home the bacon to wives
and kids as rays
of sun inch east or west across a concrete floor
and the months pass
and redwood trees grow taller until
he will almost begin to believe men do nothing but work
together
Then one day a man yells out loud enough it echoes off a tin wall,
I hope we go over there and make a goddamned GREASE SPOT
out of Iraq!"
and the world crashes
back in.

GEEK MARRIES CAR CLUB QUEEN!

Frank's sister
has sent him an old picture of himself when he was in High School
and Jane
has taken an old picture of herself when she was in High School
and cut around her shape and pasted it
onto Frank's photo beside him so that
it looks like they were boyfriend and girlfriend
and framed it and set it on their bedroom dresser.
In reality
at 16 Frank was a pimply braces-on-teeth nerdy-glasses-on-nose
pterodactyl-faced pencil-necked jerk-of-the-year geek
who spent all his time reading The Encyclopedia of Philosophy
and who had never kissed a girl in his life
while Jane
at 16 was a cool gorgeous Kim Novak-like
Coachman Car Club Queen
dating the star All-California High School quarterback
but Jane
smiles and giggles as she looks at the photo and insists
that they could easily have been boyfriend and girlfriend in High School
She liked brainy
shy guys with glasses and would have aggressed Frank 
and done all the talking and brought him out
and they would have gotten married and lived happily-ever-after 
as he became a philosopher-machinist and she write poetry and drew cartoons 
Frank
sucks down a beer as they in bed and look at the photo 
and tries to forget
the machine-shop where reality is blueprint-clear 
and concrete-hard
and carved out of steel and measured down to one ten-thousandth of an inch
and after his 4th beer
Frank and Jane really begin to seem to have been photographed together
in that photo and instead of having been married for 13 years 
they have been married for 33 
and he never wanted to die or burned up a mattress under himself
or blew up an ovenful of gas 
in his face.
Who said a good marriage can't change 
your life ?

DOING MY DUTY

My supervisor hiked me up the steel grid stairs
into the office
and we sat down facing each other in swivel chairs
as he invoked the name of the owner
of Screw & Foxx Machine Company
Larry wants me to talk to you.
He's upset because your efficiency rating
has dropped 40% the past week and a half."
My mouth dropped open in shock.
But there hasn't been any work out in the shop,
I mean.....
there's been half jobs,
I've only been able to keep one machine running
instead of 2 or 3.
How am 1 going to keep my efficiency percentage
when there's no work!"
My supervisor's face was set like stone
and I suddenly realized it was useless
and stopped talking
and hung my head.
If a machinist doesn't take the blame for everything 
he just isn't 
doing his job.

THE FROSTING ON HIS CAKE

For Malcolm, one of the biggest assholes I have ever had the honor to work with, in the hope that he will inspire many more poems.
The supervisor
moves to stand in front of the approaching machinist and make him 
walk around him 
whenever he can.
He stands a half foot from the machinist's face 
and screams into it
that he saw the machinist touch the side of his car 
with a key hanging from his belt loop 
when he walked past it in the parking lot 
AND HE'D BETTER NEVER EVER DO IT AGAIN! 
He comes by 
when the machinist is down on his hands and knees on filthy concrete
cleaning the razor-sharp chips and slivers of steel 
out of a machine with a rag 
to laugh about how that propped-open door to the side of the machine
would cut oft the machinist's head 
if it fell
and he is always eager to sit just outside the shop leisurely smoking 
his pipe
and staring with as much sadistic enjoyment as possible 
at the machinist
who must stay at his machine slaving away 
and not smoking.
There are a lot more benefits to being a supervisor 
than just a high salary.

THE BEDROCK OF OUR CIVILIZATION

If one man cannot blow the smoke
of a $200 cigar
out over the rail of a cruise ship bound round the world while another
cannot afford to own the cheapest car 
after working 60 hours a week 
for years
how could our great country continue to stand? 
If people are not dying in alleys 
under shopping carts they have pushed desperately all over the city 
for years
what meaning can there be in a woman's smugness 
over buying 
a $1,000 purse? 
If men in high office cannot laugh 
proudly 
about the other men they have stepped on to get where they are
our civilization surely 
cannot hold.
To consider any other way is dangerous. 
We need the $100,000 fur coat 
and the man starving on the street corner 
the ones
who cannot feed their families no matter how hard they try 
and the half-eaten lobster 
thrown into the trash by the rich. 
To consider any other way is sacrilegious. 
Every one knows the words of Jesus in our Bibles 
is just so much poetry. 
Communism is over and that settles it. 
We have prisons 
for people who think otherwise. 
The idea that a C.E.O. can't get a blowjob 
from a $2,000 whore whenever he feels like it
while a man who sweats 70 hours a week on a punch press 
watches his wife die
because he can't afford health insurance
is just too great a threat
to our survival.

SHADOWS WE WILL NEVER ESCAPE

All day as we work
we stare
out the rolled-open tin door at the 50-story downtown L.A. WELLS FARGO
and BANK OF AMERICA and CITICORP 
buildings gleaming
in the sun with all their wealth and power 
trying
to keep our children fed 
trying to keep from losing hope 
and throwing in the towel 
on our low wages 
riding buses 
bicycles 
thin
with hangovers making us teeter and hold our stomachs 
over pitted concrete floors 
and stumps instead of fingers 
we go without glasses and teeth and hope of anything 
but poverty 
in old age we 
stick our chests out and throw around 100-pound vises and try not
to get strung out on drugs 
or pick up guns and go crazy as we work 
in the shadows 
of those buildings 
so close
with so much wealth and power we stare 
out at those towering shining buildings 
from the shadows on the concrete floor 
of our factory
until we truly begin to know what it feels like 
to be buried alive.

AFRAID TO SAY ONE WORD TO THEM

It seemed like I would never have a woman again
as the black machine grease
splattered across my old Levi pants and torn shirt
until they stank
and the tips of the barbed wire that circled the factory gleamed
in 100-degree sun it seemed 
as I sweat and swore 
that I was as far away from a woman 
as a man could get with my lips 
seared from blast furnace flame my hair 
full of steel dust what 
would a woman want with me 
teetering 
in my chair
on Friday nights with 6-packs 
that were all I could afford and staring 
at skin mags full of women so beautiful I would have been afraid
to say one word to them 
I had held
nothing but cold steel so sharp it could cut to the bone 
in my hands for years danced 
with crane chains gone to sleep 
with the aroma of burning steel in my nostrils dreamed 
of 1 -ton bars of steel cradled in my arms for so long that it seemed no woman 
would ever hold me
until the pounding of the machines stopped in my brain 
(stroke me)
until I was no longer afraid 
(believe in me)
until the tips of the barbed wire no longer tore 
my heart.

WE HAD ALREADY BEEN BOMBED

When I was hired to work on the K-20 bomber
it was 1982
depression in L.A. and I was surrounded
in the Goodstone Aircraft Company machine shop
by blacks
We were all just glad to escape the unemployment rolls
me
bone thin without a beerbelly for the first time since
High School
and the blacks
climbing up out of drunkenness
in LA. ghettos to grab
machine handles.
We didn't think about the fact that those K-20 bombers
might someday drop atomic bombs
that could turn people to shadow
or melt the skin off their bones
We thought about food on our table
a roof
over our head clothes
for our children we thought
of people like ourselves sleeping
in alleys and tried
so hard
not to think about what those bombers might do
they were just aluminum parts
smooth and shiny and cool
in our hands
and we had already been bombed
by joblessness
to within an inch
of begging
on street corners so
we picked up those parts and maybe even
caressed them a little with our fingers as we
hoped and prayed and hoped and prayed those bombs
would never fall

OUT OF EXILE

I'm walking out the steel door
onto the gravel parking lot at break
on the eve of the California gubernatorial election
thinking
how almost all the white machinists I worked with for 30 years
at Goodstone Aircraft Company were
right-wing Republicans
who voted for Reagan and I try to restrain myself but can't.
Goddamnit I hope that fucker Arnold Schwarzenegger isn't elected!" 
I shout
loud enough so that heads of machinists all over the parking lot 
turn 
heads
of Latinos from East L.A. and El Salvador and Nicaragua 
and Carlos
the Mexican screw machine man from Montebello 
leans out of his truck to say,
Yeah, man - me too!
He's nothing but a puppet for those right-wing
Pete Wilson republicans! Bad for the working man!"
and I see
Luis walking across gravel with his guitar hung around his neck
nodding
and suddenly Juan from El Salvador walks up in his straw hat
and shakes the half-burrito in his fist at the air and says,
"He just a face - what he know about POLITICS?!"
and I see the La Opinion editorial page
in the hands of Francisco squatting against the brick wall
and know
that I have finally found my people
people
who barely speak my language people
from lands where mountains
are gods people
it took me 50 years
to find.

SILENCE IS GOLDEN

After years
of working next to men from East L.A. barrios
and Guatemala and Nicaragua and El Salvador
and not saying more than a couple of words to them
because they don't speak English
I begin to miss all the white machinists
I worked next to at Goodstone Aircraft Company.
Then
a white 50-year-old surfer from the San Fernando Valley
and a 54-year-old
white man from Southgate who wears a gun shop T-shirt
to work every day
are hired.
Arnold's gonna say HASTA LA VISTA to all those politicians in
Sacramento - THE TERMINATOR. Yeah. Awesome. Go ahead
Arnold! Terminate them all. Terminate all of them tree-huggers
and dykes and fags!"
the 50-year-old surfer machinist from the San Fernando Valley
shouts across the gravel parking lot
at lunch his first day on the job.
A few minutes later
the white machinist from Southgate wearing the gun shop T-shirt
and sitting next to the white machinist from the San Fernando Valley
on a plank of wood placed across 2 upside-down oil drums 
shouts,
You know those guys on death row using up all the taxpayers'