Hard Working Blues



Industrial Clinic


            the man on crutches,                    

leg muscles ripped pushing a heavy load—

            the woman, teeth clenched,

               hand curling & twitching, too many hours

               polishing pins—

            the grandfather, wrist bound into a stump

               where his hand once was—

            the woman, barely more than a girl,

               her foot a gauze ball, flesh pierced

               a week before by a punching ram—

            all look up

            as a dust-covered boy in hard hat comes in

            wringing his hands,


            his arm & groaning, blood spraying out

               across the floor—

            the nurses meet him there & usher him quickly

            to a room where the doctor’s waiting.

            here comes the janitor with his mop.

            someone sighs.  their eyes follow the mop.





Lunch Hour


waiting for a bus

some laid-off workers shoot craps.

this one’s won, he’s dancing around

slapping at the losers.




The Lineup


all the way to the door,

drawn faces, tired eyes:


sturdy housewives,

kids whining at their feet,


pimple-faced lovers,

hands on each others’ butts,


salesman, sharkskin & red tie,

cook, hands wiping apron,


waitress on her break,

tip money in hand,


beer-bellied factory hands

cussing their foreman,


three secretaries, silent,

stolid eyes watching,


fat old woman, nearly bald,

cane & big purse,


bearded bald man,

dead cigar stump in mouth


—all wait for tickets for

tonight’s big Lotto jackpot,


that castle in the country,

that kissoff for the boss,


for that life of Riley,

that endless sea cruise,


that end to troubles, finally,

that way out, bright


sad promise of Paradise,

long line of tears.




The Landlady


a thousand dead roaches in the sink

& on the floor, a thousand more, crawling. 

she wanted “to do business fairly,”

but didn’t know whom to trust. 

the tenants had tried to set the house afire,

then left, six months back on the rent. 

she wonders how to fix the battered wall,

the smashed ceiling, the live wire;

how she’ll keep her finances straight,

whether her children are growing up right.




The Welfare Office


a fat black woman bellows

at the face behind the desk,

her coat billowing about her boy

who clutches her knees. 

rows of haggard faces wait

in a stupor. 

the bureaucrats take them one by one. 

forms & signatures, in a cubicle—

muffled conversations,

mechanical clacking:

drove buses Saigon to Hanoi 2 years? 

small appliance repair? 

he’s lucky, should be no problem

once he learns English.” 

outside, bodies crowd the light poles;

the police lift a derelict

from a boarded doorway.




Paint Work


his workmen stopped to listen;

the neighbors opened the window. 

he waved his arms

& pointed to the new roof.  his expenses: 

she hadn’t paid in two months. 

he hadn’t agreed to her painting the place. 

where was the contract?  show it. 

he looked indoors.  the chisels began again.




Slagboom Tool & Die


Tham is tiny among these burly Americans

shuffling thru the room,

filling out applications. 

a man turns to me:  “thirteen months I been lookin’—

no goddamn jobs anywhere,

less yer a nigger er Veetnamese—“

a glance at Tham. 

a door slams.  an angry man pushes past us:

“I want my steward!  They’re pushin’ us too damn hard!”



CETA Office


the clerk talks as if to himself.

fled the draft . . .

wife & children left behind . . . “

Sang looks to me,

then back to Lien, who sits, hands folded. 

his countrymen are tearing up Kampuchea,

& this new land, so different & strange—

they whisper in Vietnamese. 

the clerk looks up. 

a job, maybe . . . how long can we wait?





two mechanics sit in broken glass,

one cigarette between them

passed back & forth,

taking turns reefing on a stubborn wheel nut. 

the poet appears, broom & dustpan in hand.




A Suite for Antler


            Miller Metals Products Corp.


            I spent three years there.

            I see them now, old friends:  some dead,

some retired to African violets in tenement window sills,

some still in the punch clock line: 

Crazy Cinda, widowed, fingers taped each morning

so they wouldn’t bleed on parts she had to steel-wool clean,

four company-provided aspirins dailyat 9 AM

to kill the headaches from the roar & the fumes;

Elsie, painted like a gypsy, Baba-Yaga nose & chin,

dead of a heart attack in her early 50s;

Ruth, spit-lines hanging from lip to lip

when she opened her mouth,

bitter when she talked of her life & the men in it,

sweet smile when help arrived; 

Hattie, talk black woman,

in my imagination an ancient Masai come back,

who left for higher pay at McInerney’s

& got married at last;

Mildred, pock-marked face, family of 8,

renting a farm in Belding, an hour’s drive from the city,

because they “had to get out of this madhouse”;

Devil Dill, aged Daisy Duck,

bitter about the bosses, bitter about the union,

her stories of ice men & horseshit in the streets

before the cars totally took over;

Thelma, old Dutch devoted Christian  

who danced real jigs with me as everybody watched, laughing! 

her retirement photo with me,

parts under my shirt to look like big tits,

both of us smiling, arms around each other; 

Leonard, the dough-faced set-up man, whose response to

most anything

washar-har-har,” kind of low & away,

who taught me soldering & how to take a paint set-up apart,

patient with this stupid kid; 

Mary, the Polish girl who told me stories of parking,

nothing could get her down with that

crazy kid enthusiasm of hers,

tho I never took a ride with her when she asked;

Dewayne, the fox-faced foreman,

short-sleeves rolled up with a pack of cigarettes enfolded,

tough, & kind,

who later married one of the sprayers;

& myself, first a lugger & hi-lo driver, later set-up,

breathing toluol & methanol & hi-lo fumes,

deafened in the roar of the exhaust fans,

out of college—quit—& freshly married

shortly after Kent & Jackson State massacres,

friends dead or mentally mutilated in Vietnam,

still reeling among the horrors!  wanting

something solid, ordinary, hum-drum, to anchor to

while weathering the war & aftershock of airy academia

I’d just spent 4 years being lobotomized by—

tenderness!  that’s the whole message! 

your hands, touching,

your hands, tender on your lover’s temples,

the message you deliver to one who screams for help,

that’s all that’s left.




remember when you screamed because nobody could live

in such degradation?

you seriously considered walking to the bridge

& jumping off,

life seemed so pointless.

you wanted to kill the bosses

& were horrified when somebody walked in on second shift

& pumped the place full of bullets.

the dawn was ugly, the night uglier.

the roses blooming were a cruel joke.

you screamed, “I’m a horse, not a man!”

you drank gin to get away from it,

you dropped acid to get away from it

& you opened your eyes to endless heartburn

rubber steaks, more Vietnam statistics

& still having to face Monday!

& all those people who tried to talk you out of

what you knew was true every day of your life.


Bridge Street


I loved them.  coming out of the dark warehouse

its lines of fluorescent lights strange & bleak

from the sunlit doorway,

walking out among those tired, dirty men,

calluses on their palms,

those heavy-armed women with their home-made smocks,

the cons done with their day labor,

back to the lockup for the night,

the new faces, how quickly they made friends!

the mirror & sink with its dirty cake of soap,

the nut bar machines & coke machines,

the hi-los—the Allis Chalmers that could take any corner

with their brodie knobs & great brakes,

the lone Clark that’d go up on 2 wheels around corners!

the races thru the plants to get to the skids first—

big shots coming thru, wolf calls behind packet skids,

what was that?

the soldering room with its torches & irons

& load of country music—how many times

could you stand to hear Okie from Muskogee

& not go absolutely nuts?

the women with their xeroxed Dicky Birds jokes

& knit cock warmers—

ya wanna model it?”

the union meetings, where any dumb joe could jump up

& speak his piece, the smug

Teamsters rep, bending his words to get them to sign—

the quiet ones who just wanted to get on with it,

the young hotheads, sure it was a screw,

the bitter remarks & sarcasm.

& walking to & from work, watching the cops u-turn

on Bridge street

meeting for donuts & coffee, bakers rushing in & out

of back rooms

with hot Vienna bread, Napoleons, Dutch & Polish pastries,

the clatter of pans,

the lines of tired workers on Friday afternoons

waiting for bread, hands in pockets fingering their change;

the stores—Flamingo Bar, its fans exhausting

cigarette smoke onto the sidewalk,

Rudy’s—pickles, pork chops & beer, big pretzels & beef jerky,

Ye Wine Shoppe

where the old woman admonished us, out of the blue—

“I’m with you kids all the way!  stop the goddamn war!”

the unclaimed freight store—

plastic doo-dads, odd sized lingerie, plumbing parts,

old Johnny of Johnny’s Shoe Repair

bent over his machines, racks & racks of shoes,

the Twentieth Century Meat Market—best kielbasa in town!

the laundromat, where bums turned the water black

with blankets fresh from the trainyards.

I loved coming out of the factory, especially in Spring!

once, in the Goodyear tire lot, I saw a double rainbow!

the bushes all in bloom at St. James

& sweet bums who’d tell tales of trains & hard times

for “a quarter for coffee”—

glad to bend somebody’s ear!

the Intertribal Council House, Indians going in & out,

curious ancient faces full of youth!

the old ladies & cripples & fat broken men on the street,

toothless, stringy hair, always hello! hello!

O ghosts of that tired, sunlit street, I’m one of you now.





New Windows


     in the grey shadowy basement workroom

            the landlord brought me the windows

& I heated the old putty with a torch & scraped it out,

nicking out the push points & pulling the broken glass. 

     the inspector had ordered it

               & would be back Monday. 

a quiet moment,

listening as the old building creaked above: 

two on the stairs

talking about the grocery bill as they went up;

in one apartment,

kids racing around shouting, bouncing a ball,

& now, directly above me,

a gospel tune on the record player,

ladies in the kitchen shouting along with the singer

& clapping, clapping, clapping their hands! 

     I laid the new windows in place

& stretched & rolled the new putty, firmed it up

& pressed & slid the knife along, a clean line! 

& turned the frame & began again.




At the Croyden


            smell of fish frying thru an open door

& up the stairs

a fat woman in a floral dress bright orange & red

screams in the stairway

at anyone who’ll listen,

young dude leaning against a doorway nearby

picking his teeth, spitting big gobs on the floor. 

     another door opens: 

an old man, bent but with a bright eye.  

seeing me, a stranger, with my mop bucket & Stones T-shirt,

he wonders, do I own the building?  no? 

do I like music?  he used to play—jazz, supper clubs,

& he was happily married, too, bless her,

she passed on.   dropped dead right in the living room,

just the other side of this door. 

he played everywhere, all these big joints downtown,

an’ he played Detroit, & up in Canada, too. 

he knew all the good numbers—

didn’t play much now, no money for a piano. 

     his breath, alcohol, leaning into me as he speaks—

the woman who’d been screaming passes by now,

shades over her eyes—

don’t listen to him, damn fool talk yer arm off

& none of it don’t mean shit!” 

he looks at his hands, palms down, fingers spread,

& looks back up into my eyes

     & I see the invisible keys. 




Mid-Winter Cleanup


            he & the boss argued

how many rooms & how to do ‘em & how’d they ever get

that much done;

the rest of the crew leaned against the walls

& perched on the stairs, watching the falling snow outside.

as a kid, he & his brother

walked the tracks with wagons & picked

the coal that’d flown from the coal car

when the tenders were pitching hard;

or they brought laundry from the “richies

for their mother to do

& pumped the outside well for water to fill the tubs

so she could wash—

sometimes the “richies” wouldn’t pay, saying

the sheets weren’t clean enough. 

& when the war came, he enlisted,

went to Bougainville, saw little action but  recalled

a marine whose buddies had all been tortured to death

ordering the guards aside so he could

blast 8 Japanese prisoners;

& he could still see

the freed Americans whose faces had the twitches

& the fingers destroyed with bamboo stakes. 

finally, the boss walked out,

& he followed, shaking his head,

his watery eyes cast down. 

he stopped, explained the boss’s ideas to the crew,

& sighed:  “a few months more, & I can forget it all.” 





My Father


            standing before the calendar pin-up,

            those juicy nipples, that tongue on the lip,

            he explains new ways to get the work done better.

            & there, at the mouth of the blast furnace—

            his hand stretches out to survey a black man in blue

            furiously checking parts,

            blowing off a die, pushing the next button

            to slam the dies together & pump the molten metal in,

            shouts in the roar of fans & motors.

            I grew up watching him from afar;

            for years we fought, if silently.

            dumbfounded before my first struggling poems,

            he defended them to my aunt, who complained

            they’d make me no money, & ruin my life. 




Shooting Gallery


by the door upstairs, whittled maple sapling homemade

spear, & baton—black tape around an axe handle:

she was out for nonpayment, had hepatitis besides.

            downstairs, a shooting gallery—

chairs in a circle—

needlecaps littered the floor—

junkies still came thru the back window every night.

                        near the dumpster,

neighborhood kids checked out the pile of furniture—

old beds & pissed-on mattresses—

as the cleaning crew brought them out,

old folks across the street rocking & watching from

                        their front porch.




            Clean Up


months before:

a child’s face stared from the window,


                        dingy rooms, browned curtains,

gang-fuck magazines, lottery tickets,

bottles, butts in cups & saucers, blue music—

at night, slumped figures in the back room

stare up in moonlight, puke in the doorway—

the kid, waking, alone,

only the TV for company—


a dream:  the house itself, new—

oak & pine woods cut down

to make way for the new development,

surveyors chatting in the silent meadow

as butterflies worked the flowers—

the smell of new earth—

work crews on their breaks before

the skeletal frame rising above them—

   the proud new owners

who’d scraped years to get this duplex:

breakfast in the dining room,

talking the news—sinking of the Titanic,

the Battle of Belleau Wood, the armistice—

Papa drove off in his Ford,

Mama did dishes & hung out the laundry.


clean up:

trash bags piled waist-high,

a yellow river oozed out to the floor drain.

grease, thick on the kitchen walls,

dripping out of the stove’s drip pans

formed in pools on the floor.

inside the refrigerator

mold an inch thick covered the walls—

furry outlines of milk cartons, jars & cans.

he stood in the hallway,

sunlight filtering thru dusty air,

swiping at nothing—

& picked up brush & bucket—




Blue April


below the 3rd floor fire-blackened brick

& empty windows, torn curtains hanging,

a young woman,

            rag tied about her hair,

            curls falling at her ears,

waves & calls to slicked-up goodtime Charley

who’s strutting thru the scraps,

                        giant ring on his pinky finger,

                        black & white tu-tones shining.

he stops, tilts his hat, gazes above, shakes his head

& turns, heading thru the garbage cans

to the door leading to her darkened stairs.   




On the Main Road


            the great flare of a burning tanker

            shoots up white-yellow into the deep night,

            the smoke black even against the sky.

                                    figures of men lean on bumpers,

            stand in headlights, gesturing

            in the great light ahead;


            police & ambulance race out of the city,

            white lines flying beneath them.

                                    I see it all from afar,

            on another road.

            my turn-off comes:

            unlock the doors, get the lights on,

            make coffee & await the administrators,

            say hello to all the perfumed ladies

            & ambitious young men

            racing to make the grade.

                                    on the news, 9 o’clock:

            the driver lived, pulled from the wreck

            moments before the whole tank blew. 




Getting The Pump Out


            the valves’re closed;

            the gushing stops.

            blue-white light from the welder’s torch

            strokes the well pit:

            finished at last, he clambers out.

            sledges hammer the old pipes loose;

            the men hold their backs & stretch between blows.

            the pipe-fitter balances over the pit,

            his legs spread, bending to

            hook chains to the cast-iron block;

            the hi-lo forks rise,

            the chains go taut—

            swinging, the heavy pump appears above the pit.

            the workers stand & watch,

            wiping their hands on their blackened bellies;

            foreman behind them

            tugs on his cigarette,

            his shiny red pants sagging over his heels.




AP Wire Story:  “Janitors at Risk”


for years I breathed spray paint, toluol, methanol,

            xylene & hi-lo fumes under roaring fans

                        in the factory,


then coal dust in aging boiler rooms, pulled

            hot clinkers & breathed the fumes,



diatomaceous earth, muriatic acid & chlorine vapors

            6 years at Lincoln Pool, breathed asbestos

                        in boiler rooms,


in tunnels & mechanical rooms across the city,

            inhaled chlordane, wood dust, germicide fumes,

                        stone cleaners,


boric acid dust, ammonia vapors—almost my whole

            adult life—exposed myself daily to

                                    shit, piss,


            vomit, mucus, hair, congealed sweat, menstrual blood,

                        as every janitor does.  today, meetings to

                                    save the planet


            fill auditoria as janitors wheel chemicals for the

                        air conditioning right past

                                    the door where


            the speakers have worked themselves into a righteous

                        frenzy!  O sacred soil, I knew you well

                                    when as a child


            I sang in your treetops & dove from cliffs tomeet

                        the river god face to face:  I toss a handful

                                    over my shoulder


            & plant these seeds to keep this dream safe.




Memorial Stone


            a young man kneels on a stoop in the alley

            & blows trumpet,

            soft sad notes rise into the breeze;

                                    a block down, beyond the shadows,

            cabs & trucks & old Chevys roar in a spot of sun.


            my hand, against the memorial stone, again

            traces friends dead in war. 

                                    I sit—

& watch the bag ladies & pigeons passing,

            the water’s shine as it rises from the fountain,

            the manic ex-soldier who goose-steps back & forth.

                        the faces rise again in my mind:

            blond hair cut straight across,

            his raised hand & shouted hello along the river

            on a home-made raft;

                                                & the other, all curls,

            his Latin books shoved in a corner,

            V-8 engine pulled apart in his bedroom,

            smiling in his grease-marked underwear.


                                    jostled now—

                                    you po-lice?”

            he asks, then “hell, no, not widdem clothes on!”

            his eyes on my janitor uniform;

            reaches into his pocket for his bottle

            & offers me a slug of sweet red wine,

            motorcycle cap backwards on his thinning pate.

                        we sit together, saying little,

                        glad for quiet company. 





            Killings to Be Made in Soybean Futures


            oldtimer swigs & shades his eyes,


            my tractor’s paid for, but

            what a way to end my years farming—

                        how many families

                        already packing up?

            how many men out behind their barns

            staring into their own shotgun barrels?

            giant dustclouds

roll off his discs & wheels,

last time he’ll cultivate these rows,

hopeful shoots

withered in less than a month.

distant heatwaves rise,

distort the hill, the farmhouse,

the line of trees beyond.




Trucker’s Story


                        small towns—

same here as it is there—

   company pulls out

& men stand on corners, on porches,


a lifetime’s savings gone,

houses selling dirt cheap—

            but not selling—

best friends turn on each other over

   unloading my truck—

in one town

they beat on each other so bad

cops had to run a man to the hospital,

his mouth still crying,

   can’tcha hold that load?

   I’ll be back in an hour!—

the others, standing, hands in pockets,

waiting for the cops to l`eave. 




Quick Glance Back


                                    for Bill Hopewell


quit drivin’ cab 3rd time I was robbed—


it was never too bad ‘til the riots in ’67—

& then it got mean as hell.

& when they busted all the whores

outa their houses—

ladies used to order a plate of food,

I’d pay for it & bring it down—

they’d pay me the difference—

but once they were on the street, it was

honey I got no money, how else can I pay you?

these rich sonsabitches I’d pick up—

they’d want a girl but

they didn’t take it too good if you had a memory.

the robbin’, tho, that’s why I quit.

O, it was great in the old days!

piles of money!  bets on the tables at Beason’s

   after work!

what a time you could have

when the town was jumpin’. 




The New Foot


            the door slammed;

cane tapping,


tapping, he works

his way down


the ramp, one hand

against the wall—


men at the table

look up from coffee,


fish stories, tales of

bowling glory.


he stares at the door

20 feet beyond them


where he’ll hang his

coat & tool pouch,


then looks down at

his new leg & foot, his


cane, & slowly hobbles

across the room.


heads turned back

to table & talk: 


he shuffles

slowly—no more walker,


nor pinned pantleg,

nor therapy, for him.




At the Croyden


smell of fish frying thru an open door

& up the stairs

a fat woman in a floral dress bright orange & red

screams in the stairway

at anyone who’ll listen,

young dude leaning against a doorway nearby

picking his teeth, spitting big gobs on the floor.

               another door opens:

            an old man, bent but with a bright eye.

            seeing me, a stranger, with my mop bucket & Stones T-shirt,

            he wonders, do I own the building?  no?

            do I like music?  he used to play—jazz, supper clubs,

& he was happily married, too, bless her,

she passed on.  dropped dead right in the living room,

just the other side of this door.

he played everywhere, all these big joints downtown,

an’ he played Detroit, & up in Canada, too.

he knew all the good numbers—

didn’t play much now, no money for a piano

   his breath, alcohol, leaning into me as he speaks—

the woman who’d been screaming passes by now,

shades over her eyes—

“Don’t listen to him, damn fool talk yer arm off

& none of it don’t mean shit!”

he looks at his hands, palms down, fingers spread,

& looks back up into my eyes

   & I see the invisible keys.




            The Invisible Keys


            dead, old John, premiere piano player,

            found sitting up on his toilet after

3 days not answering his bell:

yellowing sheet music, old records,

unpaid bills

piled on his dresser;

clock radio blaring the latest hits,

the morning news;

government checks stuffed in the mailbox,


no relatives, no claims for his things,

landlord to arrange his funeral.



spot on

the sax,

he’s on his knees making that thing


just above the heads of the dancers

who’re humping it,

sea of heads jumping in the dark,

smoke haze up in the lights &

                        now it’s John’s turn,

bass thumping

raw nerves underground raging river,

                        he lights into those

high keys, staccato—

fingers flying faster & faster,

sweat dripping off his eyebrows,

crashing cymbal & snares & high hat


& now that guitar coming in

sweet & low,

trying to take it

even the bouncers at the door

look in,

                        the dancers

stop dead to watch or

collapse into their seats, exhausted,

take it babe—

that guitar

            out front all alone

burning away sadness & anger, unpaid bills

& careless loves,

burning a bright new fire

to get them all to that coming dawn,

burning all desire


                                    leaving them





at last.




            that old tune’s floating up

                 in a dingy hallway

            one bare bulb hanging


                 & those keys’re

            rolling, waves under fast fingers—

     & two floors up

a woman sobs alone on rumpled sheets


     shattered glass

on the floor, picture on her pillow—

                two lovers

in white, with a red rose—


     hearing those notes

again, she’ll rise & look out at

                the empty street,

streetlights going off in the


     lavender dawn,

& she’ll remember an embrace, a

                tender moment

in a room like this, & sighing,


     wipe her eyes

& fix her hair, who knows who

      might turn up today,

toes still tapping to that old song.   




Sears Service Center Waiting Room


the flower-strewn corpse of Indira Gandhi:

her eldest son, now prime minister,

calmly lays the torch at her side.

relatives pile the wood around her—

            seen on TV

in this waiting room, heard over intercom jabber.

a girl stands at the glass door, anxious,

looking out as mechanics strip the nuts from a wheel;

an old man wonders whether the wait’s too long—

maybe he should call off his deal

            for a new battery





At the Open Door


trash cans & splattered walls,

fluorescent yellow lights

in deep night—

distant siren, backfire echo—

& you asleep in your mother’s arms:

I lean against my mop & dream

where stars & moon rise & fall.   




Pointing It Up


            the whole city

            spread below, he perches

            on his scaffold


            pressing mortar

            into cracks, turning

            his trowel with care:


            eyes so intent

            on his work, he’s unaware

            the wind is rippling


            thru his shirt.




            Sunday Morning


            keys jangling, the janitor

            begins his building check:

bum in the dumpster’s

tossing trash right & left—


open this fuckin’ building—

they’s cans in there, I got

toget them cans, I need

the money now, goddammit!”


a brief, futile argument:

the janitor backs off, swearing

he’ll call the cops.  churchgoers

in Sunday best parade by


arm in arm & view the scene,

turn up their noses in disgust,

to which the bum retorts,

fuck you, too, you assholes,


fuck you”—who once was

a babe in someone’s arms, &

cried for love, cried for

love, cried for love.




sirens & flashing lights stop


                        traffic where the strikers tried

            to stop trucks plowing thru

            their human wall

                        & cops waded into

            the jobless lines

            collaring shouting men & women,

                        tossing them into the wagons

            & slamming the doors:

                                    high noon

                        in the shadowless summer,

            unseen eyes

            peering thru the mirrored windows

                                    where others, jobless

            for years or scrambling

            as burger clerks, errand boys,

                        part-timers & sweepers

            to pay the rising

                        rent & fill the hungry mouths,

            succumb to

            the scab siren’s song of money.




            In The Alley


            race your

day away,



the old

man spat,

sucking on


the butt

he bummed,

& you’ll



to find your-

self alone.


he raised

his eyes—

the kid


replied, yah,

old man,

like you






your life


with talk.




The Job


years later, he’d disgorge monthly:

searching swamps & paddies for the dead,

            eyes in treetops for snipers,

he’d reach thru muck & gassy water

in tropical heat:

skin slid from arms like sausage casings,

arms & legs pulled loose from bloated bellies—

swollen eyes popped open, white with decay.


            (get the dogtags &

drop the stinking meat into a body bag—

try to forget anxious parents,

the high school sweetheart now in college,

            her perfumed letters,

his radio flyer buckskin fantasies, hip shake watusi

& all those dreams of panting love—

            tallyem up).


            he couldn’t explain

to his girlfriends how even in their

most intimate moments that death smell

would come to him—he’d

            run shrieking into the light,

shaking, his tongue a babble

of dead mens’ names.

                        even here, among

the laughter of friends, he’d need

you—to hold his shaking hands,

again & again, trapped in that dream. 




Lunch Hour



                        of days, the wizened hag’s

bony arms fling bags & butts,

half-eaten hot dogs & old papers

from the stuffed trash basket, clutching

                                    cans for her sack—

conventioneers, secretaries

                        fatcats & young stuffed suits

swirling around her,

lunch hour—

a jazz band humps it for all they’re worth,

screaming notes fly up in

                        September heat to

shout the last days of sexual summer,

                        the caged screams of cubicle workers.


                        she’s done

                                    & slings her sack

onto her rusted cart, where another bag’s

overflowing with her old clothes—

                        regal in silence, she pushes

                                    thru this festive crowd,

eyes glazed & yellowed, yet staring

                        straight ahead.






                                                the boss has gone.


& look out the window:

                        a big man has come out on his porch

& stretches

in the morning sun, swinging his arms.


                                    up the ladder

I take chisel & hammer in hand

& knock out the old plaster—



                 little sharp raps—

& now the neighbor’s hanging out his laundry.