Bradford Middleton, 5/1/2017

Current Occupation:  Low-grade sales assistant for big supermarket company.
Former Occupation: Student, Music PR, writer, admin serf.
Contact Information: Bradford Middleton lives in Brighton on England's south coast.  When he isn't writing stories and poems he can often be found on the check-out at a local supermarket.  For more from him follow @beatnikbraduk on Twitter.

Read his pieces from 2014 , 2015, and early 2016 and late 2016.

 

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DOWN AND OUT WORKING IN RETAIL

 

Jack was at work and, as usual, he really didn’t want to be there.  There were a ton of other places he would rather be; his room, his local bar, prison, in the ground six feet under, it all had to be better than this.  He hated his job that was for sure and the previous week which had seen him lose out on a new room due to some ridiculous administrative procedure that he couldn’t afford to pay had just made him realise how bad his life was.

Today though was just going to get worse and by the end, well all he could think about when he got there was getting out alive and unharassed.  It was only a four-hour shift, his usual stint during the early afternoon and he knew it was going to be a killer from the moment he walked in the front door.  No one on the shop-floor, huge empty spaces on all the shelves made him wonder if there was actually anyone at work.  Walking to the back of the store he entered through the staff door and down the stairs.  He finally bumped into one of his bosses.

“What the fuck is going on” Jack asked.

“You know the usual fucking Sunday meltdown.  Evelyn called in sick; Gary just didn’t show up, a bakery person…”

“I’m fucking sick of this place,” Jack announced cutting his bosses tirade off in its prime, “…I’m going to get a new job!”

“What you’d give up all of this?” his boss asked with just a hint of sarcasm.

    Jack walked back up the stairs to the shop-floor and was pleased to see Nina working away on the check-out.  The queue was huge and went all the way to the back of the store; there must have been about twenty people waiting and Jack knew that it was already going to be a long hard shift.  Upon his arrival Nina turned to him.

“I’ve had enough of this, I’m going home,” she said as she finished packing the bags of the most recent customer.

Jack simply looked at the queue and got on the microphone requesting back-up.  As he greeted his first customer he noticed a couple of shop-lifters loading a bag up with a whole load of cider, very strong cider.  There was nothing he could do about it though and by the time he finished sorting out his first customer they had made their escape.  His boss was still hiding downstairs, doing whatever it was that the bosses seemed to spend so much time doing downstairs.  He didn’t know he was just shop-floor scum; the sort who didn’t even earn enough in his monthly pay packet to pay the rent let alone anything else.

He continued processing the customers and after ten minutes had made his way through most of the twenty who had greeted him when he’d arrived.  He went to the microphone again, knowing that he wouldn’t get any help but at least it would alleviate any blame the customers may want to pin on him for wasting their Sunday.  The customers came and went and no one asked how he was doing, was he having a good day, within twenty minutes he had given up being pleasant, he just wanted them out of his store.  He looked at the clock and noticed he still had three hours and forty minutes to go, two-hundred and twenty minutes, over thirteen-thousand seconds; it all seemed too much, like an eternity trapped in hell.

As he greeted a new customer he heard some words from the other side of the counter for the first time that shift.

“Oh I remember you,” the voice intoned nasally and Jack looked up whilst continuing to pack the carrier bag of ready meals and fizzy wine.

“Look at yourself, you’re a mess…” the voice began to drone as Jack simply continued to pack the bag.

“Let me give you a make-over and you’ll look ten years younger… Why don’t you say anything?  Are you that ashamed, you need a shave, a haircut, I’d dye it too for you, get rid of all that gray hair…”

“I like my hair just like this,” Jack managed to interject, knowing that this would provoke some kind of response but wanting to at least defend himself somehow.

“But how can you be happy with yourself if you look like a homeless beggar… you look like a disgrace.  Let me give you a make-over!”

It had been years since Jack had really lost his temper but this guy was really treading on his final raw nerve.

“What do you think?” the guy asked of the next customer.

“I think he looks fine, he should be able to look however he wants too…”

“Well what do you know; I bet that’s not even a real Gucci handbag!”

Jack’s fuse finally exploded and he jumped over the counter to the shock and consternation of the remaining customers.

“You can’t talk to me like that, do you understand. I’m not going to let you buy any of this stuff and really you need to leave before I really lose my temper.  Now get out!”

“What??” was all the idiot could muster in response.

“Get out, I’m refusing to serve you.”

“You can’t do that!”

“I don’t care, I don’t have to listen to anyone talk to me like you just have and as I’m the only one here, well…”

There was a stunned silence from the remaining customers as the idiot slouched out the store empty handed.  Jack just got on with his job and slowly the town awoke from its Halloween inspired hangover.  People started talking.

“Hey, how’s your day man?” one of the regular customers asked Jack.

“I’m having a nightmare today,” Jack intoned chuckling to himself about what a nightmare this shift was turning into.

“What’s up?” the guy asked.  He seemed genuinely interested.

“I had this customer about an hour ago, just so damn rude!  He said I look like a homeless street beggar.  I really don’t need to deal with shit like that today when we are so understaffed I ain’t seen a colleague since the start of my shift.”

“That’s no good man, what is going on with this town?”

“No idea man but this guy really stepped on my final nerve, can you believe it… A homeless street beggar!  I’ve never been so humiliated!”

“You shouldn’t talk like that about those poor folk,” a woman’s voice interjected from the queue.

Jack just looked at the customer he was serving and arched an eye-brow.

“Anyway man, we’ll see you soon, have a great day!” Jack said as the guy turned and headed for the door.

“Thanks man, I hope your day gets better!”

After checking the clock Jack replied, “Yep, maybe in about an hour and a half at four when I get to leave!”

The woman who had interjected in the conversation walked up and presented  a basket of goods.

“You shouldn’t talk like that about the homeless, it’s not their fault, it’s the government!”

“Would you like a bag for your Tory-graph?” he asked sarcastically.

“A lot of them have problems but what you said shocked me, you shouldn’t consign people to a stereotype just because of the way they look.”

Jack just put his head down, knowing if he made it through this customer’s transaction without any further harassment or embarrassment.

“I think I’d like to speak to your manager.  Your attitude is borderline racist and I don’t think this role is good for someone like you!”

“A racist?” was all Jack could muster.

“Yes, a racist!  I’m going to get you sacked!”

Jack walked over to the microphone and asked for a member of management to come to the check-out.  This time one came running, one who he hadn’t seen arrive, one he didn’t really get on with.

“Your bill comes to 21-48,” Jack announced as the customer touched her new credit card against the card reader.  

“Are you the boss?” the woman asked of the young lady who had come running when Jack had asked.

“Yes, my name is Jeri, I’m the duty manager this afternoon, how can I help?”

Jack merely got on with his job, knowing that this could well be the end.  If he lost this job he would be really up against it; he struggled to pay his rent even in the good times and right now was not one of them.  It took another hour before his shift finally came to an end and by the time he got to the front-door on his way out of the shop he was still angry.  It hadn’t helped that his boss had told him he would just be working the shop-floor rather than check-outs until he had been through a investigation into his alleged bad conduct but if he thought that was bad what was to come next was a whole lot worse.

“Are you going now?” a nasally voice intoned as soon as Jack hit the pavement.

“You!” Jack exclaimed, flying into a complete rage.

“You could lose me my job you fucking cunt!  If you think I look bad now how will I look when I am really destitute and homeless and you know, it’s going to be all your fault!”

Jack barged pass him, having never been a fan of violence, and began his walk home, it was his home now and there awaited a bag of weed that would, he hoped, make him forget what had been a truly awful shift.

Posted in

Sunil Sharma,4/24/2017

Current Occupation: College Principal
Former Occupation: Vice-principal
Contact Information: Mumbai-based senior academic Sunil Sharma is a widely-published Indian critic, poet, literary interviewer, editor, translator, essayist, freelance journalist and fiction writer. He has already published 14 books: four collections of poetry, two of short fiction, one novel, one a critical study of the novel and co-edited six anthologies on prose, poetry and criticism. His six short stories and the novel Minotaur were earlier prescribed for the undergraduate classes under the Post-colonial Studies, Clayton University, Georgia, USA. He is a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award—2012. Another milestone is that his poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015. Sunil edits the English section of the monthly bilingual journal Setu published from Pittsburgh, USA. For more details, please visit Sharma's blog, http://www.drsunilsharma.blogspot.in/.

 

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Downsized

At 4.30 pm, in a glass cage in tony south Mumbai,
Mr. Joshi, of 25 years of service, was told over
Weak coffee by a fat bald guy with a sneering smile
Here, your check and goodbye!
The AC was on despite the mild January— a rarity
In the coastal city bursting with migrants and other workers
With Ray Bans and faux leather briefcases with solemn demeanour
Mr. Joshi was torpedoed in that Siberian desert but did not show—
Although the guy with golden specs wanted some tears and crying
But the terminated—a suburban guy with a heart and kids, ailing mother and divorced sister, all living together—did not show anything but a bold smile.
His parting words, however, sent the chill down the fat bastard’s spine: Boss! Today, me.
Tomorrow, you!
We all are just human fodder!
 

Posted in

Jeremy Caldwell, 4/17/2017

Gary Beck brings a poem on love and fire.Current Occupation: Graduate Student in Creative Writing
Former Occupation: Office Associate, Call Center Representative, Rural Electrician
Contact Information: Jeremy Caldwell lives in Lincoln, Nebraska. He has poems and reviews published or forthcoming in Poetry Quarterly, Tule Review, Drunk Monkey's, and Prairie Schooner. He's currently pursuing a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

 

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Library Book Mender

This man's profession is an old one,
and soon, will disappear.

The large cast-iron board shears he uses
will go the way of print photos,

and in a former life may have sliced
cereal boxes, but now

wears dust like a cheap nightgown.
In the old days he says now,

he would use needles to shoot
wheat paste into cover corners,

and screws, tight as ticks,
to hold weathered pages

while the glue dried.
The days of repairing and replacing

can be counted on fingers,
the same fingers I imagine

as warm and inviting, yet rough
and calloused like a deckle edge,

working on his last day,
with his last book, where he remembers,

like always, nothing about it,
but knows he's staved off time

just a little longer.

 

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Contractors Replacing a Gutter

Across the street, there are two of them
with worn jeans and flapping tool belts,
carrying clinking ladders, clacking aluminum,
emptying them on the ground like cigarette butts,
as the sun shrinks islands of ice on sidewalk squares, 
where only us humans seem confused this may last.
As they stand, shifting rock salt on the driveway
one eyes the edge of the roof, growing stern 
and contemplative, waving a strong hand
of measuring tape at the bare rim, while the other
looks up, knowing a slight drizzle
won't wash their problems away.
 

Posted in

Gary Beck, 4/10/2017

Current Occupation: I am currently a writer
Former Occupation: I was formerly a director/playwrite.
Contact Information: Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director, and as an art dealer when he couldn’t make a living in theater. He has 11 published chapbooks and 3 more are accepted for publication. His poetry collections include: Days of Destruction (Skive Press), Expectations (Rogue Scholars Press). Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions (Winter Goose Publishing), Fault Lines, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings, The Remission of Order and Tremors will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Call to Valor (Gnome on Pigs Productions), Acts of Defiance (Artema Press). Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Sudden Conflicts by Lillicat Publishers and State of Rage by Rainy Day Reads Publishing. His short story collection, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines. He currently lives in New York City.

 

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Policy Factions

The issues of our time
are seldom what they seem
as we sanction countries
for developing nuclear weapons,
yet sanctions never stop
development of nuclear weapons,
only hurt ordinary folk,
since the wealthy and powerful
remain comfortable, well-fed,
secure in their positions,
never deterred
by economic pressure
to change their ways,
an American fantasy
that the people will revolt,
replace their leadership
with democracy,
a political delusion
common in the U.S.A.,
where we want everyone to love us,
despite the mess we made
in Iraq, Afghanistan,
in ill chosen invasions
that changed nothing for the better
at a prodigious cost
in national treasure,
our young men and women
volunteers trusting their country
not to expend their lives
without good reason,
and we gave them wounds and death,
then withdrew our troops,
another failed venture
that weakened us at home, abroad,
while all the lands that hated us
gloated at our defeat,
calculating how to harm us
as we cowered at home

in a crippled economy
overseen by a selfish congress
enrapt with it's own agenda,
apparently unconcerned
that many Americans
may fall off a fiscal cliff,
the people's suffering preferred
to distressing their masters,
whose comforts come before
the needs of the nation..

 

Posted in

M. A. Schaffner, 4/3/2017

Current Occupation:  Writer and part time history instructor. Former Occupation:  Federal civil servant, working in personnel and budget, and on agency staff. Contact Information (short bio):  M. A. Schaffner has work recently published or forthcoming in The Hollins Critic, Magma, Tulane Review, Gargoyle, and The Delinquent.  Other writings include the poetry collection The Good Opinion of Squirrels, and the novel War Boys.  Schaffner spends most days in Arlington, Virginia or the 19th century.

 

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Facets Of The Evolution Of Information Technology

It can still be done.  Carefully cut the quill,
sharpen the wedge-tipped stylus for the clay
the reed for the papyrus; kiss the brush
for the line on the shaved slat of bamboo.

Tippy tap, thumb dance, finger stroke the screen.
Simulate magic where nothing happens.
Emotions evanesce; ephemera
become permanent, hidden in themselves.

Watch as your avatars self-actualize,
and representations replace the mold
in which we cast reality, such as it was
in some prior age, just moments ago.

Five feathers from the goose's right wing.
Unused, they loiter in parks, on lawns,
leave turds like soil cores on golf courses
where we no longer play, having the app3

 

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The Last Position Classification Specialists On Earth

When I last saw Phipps the frou-frou vineyards
had just begun sprouting on Twenty-Nine
all down to Charlottesville and FEI.

He must be seventy but looked even younger
than way back when in CCPO Ten.
He must have stopped smoking the stout Camels

that gave him a rasp but still left his baritone
and — new for him — an uncynical smile.
Commissioner of Niacin or something, he said,

which just meant he'd made it, which was fine,
because we all know that titles are bullshit,
because that's what we do in the Two Twenty-First

playing "Ace of Aces" in the tiny break room
between flights down the road to another base
of sheet metal desks and all-day coffee,

and however we found ourselves all at this table
laughing and looking like youngsters again
I am so glad for the living and dead
that rode together then and always will.

 

Posted in

William Metcalfe, 3/13/2017

Current Occupation: Having retired from profitable work, I am playing about with either writing or photography.
Former Occupation: There were 40 years of picture framing. My company was one of the first in Washington, DC, to push for preservation as a very important aspect of a framing job. 
Contact Information: After 30 years of aimless travel, I settled down in Washington, DC. after I found I enjoyed working as a picture framer. The years of travel and those of working with customers, I have accumulated a large collection of stories, which exist as short notes. For a period, I was also, by acclamation, a interesting photographer, but a move to a near suburb, a wonderful wife and our 3 children took more and more time. I had to curtail my pursuits. Now that I am retired and my children are adults, I have returned to earlier interests. The iMac which sits on my desk offers itself as a means of rendering a legible copy of a story from the dusty corridors of my mind. It also offers itself as a instructor in converting digital snapshots into something much more meaningful, might I say art. 

 

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THE CRITIC STRIKES

    The “artist” had more pretension than skill or talent, but he was a good customer for our frame shop. At least three of our new customers, and his, had trusted us with their newly purchased paintings because of his recommendation. As the paintings were always views of gardens, we suspected that the gardens’ owners were the purchasers of the paintings. The “artist” may have visited the gardens, but he lacked the vision of what he saw.
    On each visit, the artist insisted that only the shop’s owner could be trusted to find the right picture frame for his latest masterpiece. Fortunately for the boss, the artist had no taste. 
    The boss would study the section of the wall that held our most expensive frame samples. Nothing but real pseudo gilt would do. After portraying the part of a person mired in deep deliberation, the boss would approach the samples. Hesitation was evident as his arm extended to the chosen frame. After he positioned the frame sample onto the painting’s upper edge, he stood back and broadly smiled. The artist, who had been nervously pacing about the room while the boss performed his magic, joined in the smile. Then the boss would carefully carry the painting into the workroom, which was not visible to the customers. When he returned, the artist and the boss would shake hands. The artist would leave to return to his studio; the boss would resume his normality.
    One day, the artist brought in three recently completed masterpieces. The boss and he performed their usual charade with the first piece. After the frame selection had been made, the boss again carried the landscape towards the back room, but, on this day, the shop was crowded with other customers. The boss leaned the painting against a fake wall that separated the workspace from the customers and hurriedly returned to fray in the front room.
    While the artist and the boss repeated their routine twice more, the other customers milled about waiting for help. Unseen by all, a stray dog deliberately walked through the shop’s open doorway and through the legs of the oblivious crowd. The creature’s purposeful stride took it to the artist’s painting. At first, it looked like the dog would bypass the art, but it stopped, raised a hind leg and pissed on the painting. The verdant landscape now had a stream running through it. His task completed, the dog turned about and walked out with the same deliberate stride. Its raised head was that of one who knew that he had discharged a worthy chore.
    The dog’s meritorious action was inexplicable. One was tempted to reverse the letters in “dog”, but, if that were the case, a bolt of lightning would have consumed this landscape.
 

Posted in

Lydia Freeman, 3/6/2017

Current Occupation: Teacher
Former Occupation: Teacher
Contact Information: Lydia Freeman is a teacher at KIPP ENC Public Schools in Gaston, North Carolina where she pushes sixth graders to think deeply and engage with historical, social and political spheres while practicing reading and writing. She writes often, engages deeply in conversation with friends, and strives to live purposefully in her community.

 

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The Importance of Nothing

I’m filing today, counting out the
alphabet and trying to remember whether
J goes before or after K and singing
A-B-C-D-E-F-G, trying to remember
where to put Bennigan, Sylvia, J.
and being surprised twice to find
G after F, memorizing minutes, testing time, glancing at
the numbers on the screen of my phone, wishing the day
would just end and I wouldn’t have to file anymore.
I’d rather be dancing in the rain, writing, singing, 
dreaming, thinking –  anything. I’d rather
be doing something that mattered.
…and I look at the rain
falling outside the window and I 
remember Einstein, barely graduating college,
working in a patents office
in Berlin, watching the same rain as today, and I
think on all those patents and what a waste
that the Albert Einstein spent years
examining patents instead of… instead of 
…doing something smart, doing something important,
instead of sitting in a room
examining patents: H-I-J-K-L-M-N
N-N-N-N-N
in that room, examining those patents,
Einstein began connecting space and time
and the general theory of relativity began
to breathe and unfurl – The Universe
was about to begin undressing and reveal the top
half of her left breast because the meaningless,
menial, boring jobs leave our minds half free for
dancing, writing, singing, dreaming, thinking, anything,
O-P-Q-R-S-T-U-V-W
I’m filing.
    X
    I’m filing.
        Y
        I wrote this poem.
            Z
            And I’m filing.
 

Posted in

Carl Wade Thompson, 2/27/2017

Current Occupation: Graduate Programs Writing Tutor
Former Occupation: Janitor/Meat Packer/Waste Disposal/Fork Life Operator
Contact Information: Carl Wade Thompson is a poet and graduate programs writing tutor at Texas Wesleyan University. His work often focuses on his manual labor experiences.

 

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Deep Freeze

Meat packing ain’t easy,
always so damn cold. 
Wear layer after layer,
two pairs of gloves,
but no matter what,
I freeze every day.
Start out feeling warm,
false hope from beginning.
The longer I stand still,
stationary on the line,
the colder I become,
numbness creeps like ants.
By lunch, I’m a tree trunk,
stiff wood, no blood in my veins.
All day long I dream of heat,
fresh blacktop, July Texas nights.
When the whistle blows,
I’m the first one out.
In a dead run—keys out.
Pass through the double doors,
straight out to the parking lot.
Just let the heat set in,
the cold slips away.
As I get in my car,
I know tomorrow’s another day.
Just got to let it go.
Radio blares, roll down the windows,
let my mind drift; relax—
stare at the night, stars, and dream.

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Changing of the Guard

The time has come,
hour eleven, on the dot.
My shift has nearly ended,
and I am so damned tired.
From seven to seven,
the whole live long day, 
emptied bed pans, gave meds,
kept my patients alive.
I am not a doctor,
never wanted to be.
Just try to do my best,
to care for the sick, dying.
Five patients, all at once,
yet there is no help for me.
The call light always beckons,
there’s always more to be done.
I hold my piss the whole day,
no time for me to pee.
Patients ask for water,
I’m at their command.
But sometimes they don’t get it,
nurses aren’t wait staff.
So while Mrs. Jones in Room 3,
is demanding her iced tea,
I’m trying to save Mr. Long,
who’s having a heart attack.
But end of shift is here,
the changing of the guard.
As I chart, report my care,
the time slowly expires.
Now I’m gone, don’t look back,
another day in the tank.
Time to go home, get clean,
finally have time to pee.

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The Interview

Every job’s the most important,
the job you really want.
Decisions are life and death,
with each and every interview.
How hard you persuade them,
convince them most sincere.
But your words fall on deaf ears,
they’ve forgotten that you’re here.
And as you leave disheartened,
you wonder what went wrong?
You’ll never know what you did,
what the employer didn’t like.
Taking it all personal,
doubting yourself through the night.
But there are other jobs out there,
tomorrow is another day.
Jobless, you feel worthless,
like your bad in every way.
Know there is no justice,
helpless, you only can move on.

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Unemployed

Whenever I am jobless,
feel my life standing still.
I am not a person,
it’s like I don’t exist.
I’m ashamed of my situation,
like I’ve done something wrong.
Sinful, I sit in silence,
like I’m damned by someone’s God.
Don’t why a job’s so important,
to the way I used to feel.
Sit at home, watch TV,
fill out applications all day long.
Don’t feel like a man,
I can’t bring my paycheck home.
It’s like my soul is stolen,
a ghost, I roam the halls.
Never have I felt so small,
insignificant piece of trash.
I pray I’ll find work,
anything will do at all.
All I want is to feel whole,
The way I used to be.
My life feels uncertain,
as the Recession rolls over me.
 

Posted in

Ellen Wade Beals, 2/20/2017

Current Occupation: Writer, Blogger, and Novice Photographer
Former Occupation: Freelance writer and editor
Contact Information: I imagine those who make house calls have some crazy stories to tell. Plus the trades have their own vocabulary. I've tried to take into account both those things here. Work is forthcoming in The Offbeat from Michigan State University.  My website is www.solaceinabook.com

 

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On-the-job training

Milt taught me a few things about customer service when you are making a house call and got to install something or fix something.  He knows because he has been in the business for 45 years. No matter what happens, when the homeowner is talking to you, do not notice anything else. The wife comes in naked, do not notice. The kid says something stupid, do not notice. Keep the line of your talk going.  That’s the thing; some of these places you go you wouldn’t believe the customers or the states of their homes. Some places are pigsties. You’ll be at a place that could remind you of your own mother’s home when the teenage daughter walks in asking for money, brassy and ballsy as a red cunt hair. But you keep the old lady’s convo going; you don’t even notice the head-banging chick because that’s not important and the heating system, which by the way has not been serviced in quite some time, needs a partial overhaul–filter, belt, and maybe even the capacitors– since he mentioned that noise. Go down and take a look – let the guy show you the way.
 

Posted in

Philip Newton, 2/13/2017

Current Occupation:   APS Investigator
Former Occupation:   School Custodian 
Contact Information: I’m an investigator and musician living in southern Oregon. My writing reflects the perspective and concerns of a working class person and is especially influenced by Pablo Neruda and Tristan Tzara. My favorite harmonica player is Little Walter.

 

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Waitress 

There was no heat 
There wasn’t anything to burn
And no luxury of hours
Or bowls full of music
Days wilted, squares of
Gray tile cracked and spread 
Her tired feet sank in 
And a panicked  ovum 
Rattled in the sugar 

There was no daybreak
Her shift of stiff dresses
Flat shoes, acid coffee and bisque embers
Lay between suns 
Not enough there
To be forgotten 
And when they let her go 
She walked alone down
Aching blocks of ink and lime 
To her cigarette rooms 

Newsprint smells of rust and grain
This morning she isn’t there
There’s a girl chewing gum
And the fry cook, paper hat
Spattered with continents of vellum
Those getting on and those getting off
Scratch and drink and read
Papers full of ads, wars, baseballs
Pale messages from dim cities
They read and they eat and they stain the edges
Missing the line between the lines:
She was a waitress in various local restaurants

 

 

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Logger 

I found Charlie in a box
It was made out of plywood
and that’s where he lived
The box was built for Charlie by a neighbor
who’ d taken pity on him 
because he didn’t have a box

Before Charlie got his box
he slept out in the air
under a tree, or beneath a piece of green canvas 
He knew the night-walking creatures
He knew the stars
He rose up and lay down with the sun

Then he got the box
When I found him there
it was full of cats and fleas
So many cats and so many fleas
that every winter we’d go get him
and take Charlie to the old folks’ home
Where they’d peel off his jeans
so rubbed with bacon grease that they
looked like waterproofs
and they were proof against water and
all the other elements Charlie had to worry about 
Except fleas and blindness and age
The nurses gave Charlie baths and
healed up his sores
He’d stay the winter with the nurses
When spring came, he’d get a ride back
to the box and the cats and the fleas

Charlie was a logger
He logged in the days before power saws
He used an eight foot misery whip
He had a partner he called The Swede
Although the Swede was an Indian 
from a coastal tribe
The Swede was tall and Charlie was short
but they worked the misery whip together
One on each end
out in the silence of the woods
only the inrush and exhale of cool and hot
and the hum, snap and biting remark of the saw
The men that came after Charlie worked alone
and their machines were full of noise
and killing chains and the stink of gas and oil
But they were fast
Much faster than Charlie and the Swede
working together, body tuned to body
through steel spine and sharp teeth
and wooden handles warm with the grasp of their hands
until there was one body and one mind made from two
 
When they were hired to clear the roadbed
for the Coast Highway, Charlie and the Swede
welded two misery whips together to make a 
single sixteen foot saw
They felled the largest coast redwood ever killed by men
and it took them four days to do it

Charlie wanted to live to be a hundred years old
He made it to ninety-nine 

 

#

Janitor 

After dark the halls go dreaming
Bells and shouts and the small
thousand shocks of footsteps
are something like an echo
and something like a shadow
but glowing around the edges

He pushes a steel cart full of chemicals
It’s chipped and cool and green
Its wheels are phenol formaldehyde
bonded to cast iron, rolling on steel bearings
greased with silent algae 
which had once floated in great mats
on the surfaces of long-dead seas 

He puts right at night
what’s gone wrong all day
A spring-loaded line
attached to a spool 
attached to a leather pouch
attached to his belt 
has a ring of keys:
Light key, water key, soap key
A key to rule all doors

His dust mop whispers in friction 
He dresses it with an amber oil
that smells of pianos and bread 
and it cuts a shining linoleum wake
He empties the little cans into the 
big can and empties the big can into the
dumpster where bums sometimes sleep
Then he goes from room to room, sweeping and
correcting the spelling of the next days’ lessons
on the black slate boards
using different colored chalk 

 

Posted in

John Grey, 2/6/2017

Current Occupation: Retired
Previous Occupation:  Financial Systems Analyst
Contact Information: Australian born poet, US resident since late seventies. Worked as financial systems analyst. Recently published in Coe Review, Abbey and Cemetery Moon with work upcoming in South Carolina Review, Gargoyle and Harbinger Asylum.

 

#

LENNY

 

He punched time clocks.
For so many years, he got by on remorseless punctuality
Factories ran because of him.
He did the same thing over and over and so did they.

 

 

He was one more worker
glued to the assembly line,
eyes, wrists, arms, hands and legs
like unquestioning soldiers,
keeping those wheels and pulleys turning
or stoking hell-hot ovens,
or stacking the guts of backs of trucks
with fresh product.

 

 

He lost a finger in an accident,
half his hearing to the pulverizing noise.
And his lungs turned the same shade of brown
as the stream that trickled behind the walls
and bubbled with toxins.

 

Look at those red eyes, the bend of the back.
And listen to the cough,
the wheeze, the creak of the knees.
This man was a dead-set cog
in whatever machine you can imagine.

 

 

It could have been warehouse, foundry, depot or plant.
Or the steam bellies of boilers.
And the fuels of his decline –
take your pick from metals, fiberglass, noxious gases.
And chemicals that glowed in the gut.

 

 

But he paid his bills. He bought the house he's still living in.
He went to church on Sunday and he hacked up dark bile
like evicting demons.
Yes, he drank a lot of beer and he swore like two platoons.
And he may not have even been a good man.
But he was a functioning one, a persistent one, a practical one.

 

 

When he finally retired,
folks reckoned he'd be dead within the year.
But he's still here.
So folks reckon they must have got the year wrong.
But they got the death right at least.

 

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