Poetry, Vol. 5.2, June 2011
Someone keeps referring to the way these men perfected their art .
The compositors chose letters individually
and made words, sentences, pages in moments.
Quickly, twelve hours a day.
The ragged aprons of the pressmen, hands cut and calloused, ink under and around
fingernails, dried in lines of skin.
The splinters that plagued hands, arms, anything in contact with the press’s frame.
Feet fatigued and fingers broken, or completely flattened, by the machines.
My father’s work clothes wherever they landed, waiting for my mother to pick them up.
Black-streaked denim, a discolored spot on his hat’s bill, a snag on last year’s T-shirt.
Neon orange earplugs.
My father makes something, too.
Once he tore open a diaper, showed me how the particles inside soak up the moisture.
Once he pulled a package of Pampers from the supermarket shelf, pointed at a string of numbers on the back by the barcode.
It was his line number;
he had made these.
The twelve hour days.
People want to work there, wait years to work there.
He can tell me the number of night shifts left until retirement.
The fried bologna and egg sandwiches my mom made for his lunch,
and how the design of safety glasses has changed since my dad was 18.
The women are stern and cold because they have to be.
He won’t tell us his nickname at work.
The absence of windows in the building, no night and day
and the way he just can’t sleep like we can anymore because that’s what night shift
does to a person.
How it was my mom, my sister and I at home alone a lot,
And the way my grandparents did all this too.
How he gets defective toilet paper, expired coffee, and batteries for free,
and the way we open a Christmas bonus of discontinued goods each year, once in a
woven basket, now in a cardboard box—
Screamin’ Dill Pickle Pringles, a gadget made by Febreze that shoots a cottony
scent, canned hams that we donate to the school food drive.
And the way Procter & Gamble relies on temporary work agencies so they can
provide fewer benefits.
These hires drink two-liters of Mountain Dew before work and quit after a few weeks,
and my father believes they only work because they need drug money.
The twenty-two-year-old fresh-out-of college bosses
and the maintenance man who used to be a carnie.
And the way my dad always works Thanksgiving and Easter and last year it was Christmas.
How a Friday night shifts meant we got fresh donuts on Saturday morning,
and the way he would die instantly and painlessly if any of the boilers that power
the plant exploded.
I write about this,
I make something.