William Metcalfe, 7/30/2018

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. In the years of travel and 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. One can only hope

 

#

READING RUSSIAN IN ALASKA

 

    For part of my final two years as a soldier I worked as a typist in G2, Intelligence, at Fort Richardson, Alaska. This Fort is very close to the town of Anchorage. I assumed that our post was created so that the US could keep an eye on that part of Russia which was very close to Alaska. But because I did not have a security clearance then, I knew nothing about our methods of acquiring intelligence about Russia nor what intelligence we gathered.

    I did know a man, who was probably in his mid-20s, who worked in the Russian Section as a translator and interrogator. It was possible that he was drafted into the military. Supposedly, there was an Army base somewhere for highly educated persons who objected to war on philosophical or moral grounds. They were assigned manual jobs well below their education. If the person’s objection to war was religious, he would be exempt from service.This man may have taken a chance with the draft. He was quite intelligent and would obviously have a promising career in whatever field he applied himself to after he left the army.  As he did not socialize with the flotsam of our military universe, I did not know him well enough for anything other than a casual conversation.

    One day I looked into his office as I walked through the corridors of the headquarters. Almost simultaneously with my arrival, a multi-stripped Sergeant arrived and grilled him about the work done that day. The young man held up a thick paper-backed book with bright red letters on a yellow background. Somehow I could tell that the letters Russian. This non-commissioned officer demanded to know what that book was about. With a steady stare at the Sergeant, the translator complained that he had to read this damn Russian manual on military troop care and training. Boring, dull and incompetent were the words he used to describe it. The Sergeant nodded his head in agreement, mumbled some cliches, and left. The young man looked at me, smiled and admitted that the book in question was in Russian, but the contents, which did deal with war, were by Tolstoy.  In English, the manual would have been titled WAR AND PEACE.

 

Robert Cooperman, 7/23/2018

Current Occupation: House Spouse
Former Occupation: English Teacher
Contact Information: Robert Cooperman's latest collection is DRAFT BOARD BLUES (FutureCycle Press). Forthcoming from Main Street Rag Publishing Company is THAT SUMMER and from Aldrich Press, THEIR WARS. Cooperman's work has appeared in THE SEWANEE REVIEW, CALIFORNIA QUARTERLY, SLANT, and elsewhere.  

#

Hands in Pockets

My uncle got me a summer job
in a Garment District factory:
Harold—the guy I reported to,
with his rat tail moustache—hated me.

“Get your hands out of your pockets,”
he growled when he first laid eyes on me.
“You come to work prepared, or 
you get the hell home, you got that?”

Then, knowing I’d screw up anyway,
he showed me how to tape cartons, 
stack orders, close the boxes for shipping, 
and how to attach the labels, not exactly 
string theory or relativity, but I managed 
to louse up the first order, to prove to Harold 
that a moron had been thrust upon him.

Finally, I got it right, did the job better 
than he expected, which meant he hated me 
even more, especially when I suggested once, 
his count was off.  He never forgave me,
shoved a broom at me, and smirked, 

“The floor better be spotless, college boy,”
then informed me that was my new job.

Still, it was money and I was young, 
hummed tunes to the subway at five, 
and breathed the perfume of fashion models
who hailed cabs like birds of paradise,
while I licked Italian ices, and dreamed 
of Harold’s accidental and unfortunate death.

Alan Humason, 7/16/2018

Current Occupation: Marketing Consultant
Former Occupation: Executive Director (Destination Marketing Organization)
Contact Information: Alan Humason is a writer in Fort Bragg, CA. He has published poetry and short fiction in such periodicals as Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Third Wednesday, The Longleaf Pine, The Reed, and 100wordstory.com. He has a BA in English Literature from UC Santa Barbara and is a past winner of the Grand Prize Phelan Award for writing from San Jose State University.

#

Making Wood As Smooth As Glass

Working by hand
Using different grits
I slowly bring up the grain
Like facts in an investigation.
I prefer hardwoods –
Teak, maple, walnut, oak –
They resist more, yield more
In color, clarity, and sheen.
Looking into the grain as it emerges
I can gradually see its course,
Its variations, speckles, and streaks –
The tree’s true nature revealed,
Or some influence of nature I cannot know –
And depending on the wood
I can guess how hard I have to work.
Sometimes I worry I will go too far
And have nothing left –
The wood will simply vanish in my hands,
A mystery, sawdust.
But sometimes I think I’ve got it right –
A moment of learning, confirmed
By the proper play of light –
And that’s the reason I work at this.
My father knew this
And some day my son.

DS Maolalai, 7/9/2018

Current Occupation: Facility Maintenance Dispatch
Former Occupation: Hospital Control Room
Contact Information: DS Maolalai recently returned to Ireland after four years away, now spending his days working maintenance dispatch for a bank and his nights looking out the window and wishing he had a view. His first collection, Love is Breaking Plates in the Garden, was published in 2016 by the Encircle Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

 

#

The window

where I work now 
– yes, it's one of those ones –
it's an office.
and I have a window.

I remember 
years
sitting in mildew-ridden basements
sending out calls to bikers who refused to take them.
I remember other basements,
and begging carpenters
to do one more job please before going home.
I remember making calls to old ladies
and explaining 
that if they signed up for a free quotation
(no obligation)
our technicians would also look at their fascias and soffits
and could even advise
on the placement of new window-panes. 

never
was my complaint
against the bikers
or the carpenters. they worked
the same shifts as us – sometimes for more money,
sure, but always
harder than we did. they were the ones 
in the rain and snow
or dealing face to face with patients
asking why they'd taken so long on a broken windowpane.
we were just in chairs,
leaning back,
taking calls,
arguing over the coffee runs.

my complaint was always
and is always
violently against management;
who were perched up there
in their nice offices,
bathed in vitamin D from morning to night
and with windows. a window
seemed like nothing but luxury.
a window
was grapes dropped in your mouth.

and now 
I have a window of my own.
and I still don't enjoy it;
all I can see outside
is a burned out caravan
and a road 
packed with traffic like piano keys.
I still spend my day
arguing with drivers
and trying my best
to stop things falling too far behind.
all they have given me
for the money
is nothing else to complain about. 

#

300 alarm clocks

I work at 
this. the poems. you may not see it
but I do. I don't want to be
sitting in a rolling armchair
still answering phones for people
as I edge into my 30s. this woman
works with me – she has a degree
in physical therapy 
and her wife has a masters in law
and now they both take phone calls
and arrange quotations for people
looking to order 300 alarm clocks
for the insane ward
in a new hospital
opening next summer. the conversation
at their dinner table
must be stunning. all this 
for a quiet room in a boarding house
where I can come home to wine and music of a night
and no money left over 
when you take away the rent. god 
is an object lesson
in defeat. we are all trapped in fates
comfortable enough to bear. I 
am still interested in getting out. 
squirrels run straight up trees
and disappear. I scratch
at the belly of the cave
in the hope of being discovered.

#

People from abroad and an artist and a lady who wanted to be left alone

this was a few years ago
before I'd left ireland and then come back again
when I was picking up some money in the evenings
by working as a census collector 
in the slums on the northside
around mountjoy sq.
it was early enough in the year
that you had to wear a jacket
and cold
and the rain would land on the ground in blankets and stay there
and shine like a mirror as the sun was going down until
the whole world looked silver and white.
I'd go door to door in these big victorian buildings –
mountjoy sq has these big victorian buildings
that you wouldn't know were holding slums from outside –
and I'd knock on the plywood doors of these subdivided oneroom deadwater flats 
with two or three people seating there
and a toilet at the end of each hallway filled spilled piss, wet dirt and detergents
and hand out these forms people had to fill in and sometimes
help them fill them if they were roma gypsies 
or eastern european or spanish 
and had trouble with 
english words like "residence" or "continuing".

it was easy work all over and I liked seeing how these people
would manage to live in spaces small enough for a woodlouse to get noticed,
small enough that you'd never lose your cigarettes.
there was this woman who's whole room smelled deliciously of coffee and apple perfume
and she invited me in to sit down because she said I looked tired
and then kissed me and said that if nobody lived in the apartment
she'd let me do whatever I wanted 
and she sat on my lap and unbuttoned her blouse
and I didn't say I wanted anything 
but I guess the room was empty an hour later
and her mouth tasted like fruit because she must have been eating fruit when I knocked
and her hair was light brown
hearing into red in some places.
and there was this old guy down in the basement who looked like he could barely walk at all
but somehow he must have made his way up these metal steps covered in rainwater every day
and he had all these paintings
and he let me have a coffee and talked to me for a long time about how nobody in the whole goddamn                                                         country
liked art anymore
and I used to bring a little whiskey with me sometimes to feel exciting and I offered him some
and he put it in his coffee and said
"this is really good whiskey
thank you
this is going to be the fuel for a really good painting"
but I filled out the form with him and never went back
and never found out how the painting turned out.
sometimes people wouldnt want to answer the door either
they would say that I was a garda
or somebody's old boyfriend
and I would have to slide the papers under the door
and sometimes they would slide them back filled over with "fuck you"s and "cunt"s and sometimes 
                                    they wouldn't slide them back at all.

one of the other guys said he'd just staked out the liquor store all day on a Friday and
handed out papers to anyone who went past 
and he said he got all of his forms filled out in two days of that.
the rain that came was very light usually but it stayed for a long time on the ground
and then sometimes you would walk rain into the hallway of a building and come back the next day
and you could still pick out your footprints it was so cold.
a lady from mauritius gave me a handful of bread she had just baked 
and it was delicious full of spice and fruit pieces and aroma and nuts
or maybe I was just hungry.
the people were poor and mostly not very happy
but they all talked a lot to me.
I was only once threatened with violence in four weeks of going around
and that was from an irish guy who thought I was trying to count out how many people lived there
so I could have the building condemned and then turned into condos.
mounjoy sq. seems like a place with good people 
like you dont really get anymore
like Orwell's Paris in Down and Out
or like somewhere Charles Bukowski might have lived if he wasnt such a sour auld fucker
and thought he might learn how to like people.

I sometimes walk through it now on my way home from work and
I guess there was a fire in one of the buildings or something and a bunch of people must have been
                                                     killed 
or died later from emphysema 
and now they're planning on tearing it down anyway
this place I got laid and met a guy who could paint well well into his seventies
and there was a dog that barked at me every day and then once when I got close it licked my hand    
and they're going to make it into student housing for kids up from the country that want to go to dcu    
and there's a pretty hip bar now down near there on a corner
and someone said they're paving the park.
the whole neighbourhood is really going to be coming up 
into somewhere you could visit
really very soon.

#

I'm scared, coach

he works a step above me
in facility management
which means basically
that he's the one
who decides the when the lights should stay on
and I go off and do it.

he's one of those
lilybalding white men
that you can't quite examine – 
could be springwater 60
or well-worried at 40,
coaches football
in his spare time
and sometimes comes in
bruised and tore up
or with a cut 
on top of his bald 
limping head. 

I stay home at night
listening to music,
drinking wine 
and eating apples by the basket
and come in every morning
fresh as a salmon
but he is always
still there,
a little more worried
a little more lined. 

I call in contractors
while he speaks to management
and frets 
like a 10 year old caffeine addict. he wasn't born 
for anything 
more taxing
than teaching
those skinny 16 year olds
the right part
of a ball to kick
and if any of our lives were just and ordered
that is all 
he'd have to do.

#
Humber River Hospital

when I worked
at Toronto's 
Humber River Hospital
it was
(they said)
the most technically advanced hospital
in the world outside Dubai,
with robots running rails
to deliver pills, blankets and syringes,
messages 
and samples
sent by pneumatic tube,
and a special panic system that could track the location
of anyone in the building
right down
to the very portion
of whatever room they were standing in.

when I worked at 
the Humber River Hospital 
I witnessed:
2 deaths of children caused by errors with the intercom,
1 attempt by a guy in the ER to steal a policeman's gun,
1 woman 
collapsed in blood on the floor
and forgotten for 30 minutes by the orderlies
and 8 escapes from the insane ward, 
of which 3 ended in assaults
and 2 
in attempted suicides.

I used to walk there
in the afternoon
if I was going in for a night-shift
and the sun would summer overhead
and drain sweat
until my mouth was dry
and my shirtsleeves
were soaking. the hospital
was located
outside the city
and I lived down the middle of downtown
but there were parts of the walk
which were not unpleasant. once
I saw a hawk bring down a pigeon
right into the highway
and cars swerved
but nobody was killed
as it stood on it's capture
blinking 
with chicken-eyed stupidity. 

the control-room office I worked from
was on the basement level
right next to the main cafe
and we spent a lot of time in there talking,
drinking coffee
and watching tv. it was in there that the intercom went out from
and I knew both the guys pretty well
that made the mistakes mentioned earlier. one of them was me. 
but we'd both worked there almost two years by then
and anyone
who works somewhere for that long
in a mindless job where the biggest problem most days
is resetting a robot that failed to detect a door 
can be forgiven 
for making one
fumbling 
panicked mistake
in an emergency,
right?
 

 

Gary Beck, 7/2/2018

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 13 published chapbooks and 1 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, Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations and Rude Awakenings (Winter Goose Publishing) The Remission of Order will be published by Winter Goose Publishing. Conditioned Response (Nazar Look). Resonance (Dreaming Big Publications). Virtual Living (Thurston Howl Publications). Blossoms of Decay and Expectations (Wordcatcher Publishing). Blunt Force will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. His novels include: Extreme Change (Cogwheel Press), Flawed Connections (Black Rose Writing), Call to Valor and Crumbling Ramparts (Gnome on Pigs Productions). As part of the continuing series, ‘Stand to Arms Marines’, Gnome on Pigs Productions will publish the third book in the series, Raise High the Walls. Sudden Conflicts (Lillicat Publishers). Acts of Defiance will be published by Wordcatcher Publishing. His short story collections include, A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications) and. Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing). Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories will be published by Wordcatcher 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.

 

#

Incendiary Moments

Fire in the city
a tall office building
too high for ladders.
Smoke pours out,
people begin to flee.
Most don’t know
about the blaze.
Power fails,
elevators stop,
some are trapped
screaming in the dark.
Firefighters arrive
burdened with gear,
sweat pouring off them.
Rescue efforts begin,
the long climb
to the top floor,
evacuation
of the injured,
panic a short breath away.
Only the steadiness
of the firefighters
prevents mad stampede.

Careful search of premises,
careful check for hazards,
then the battle of the fire,
smoke impeding the fight.
PCBs, other harmful chemicals
seep their way
through respirators,
constricting breathing.
Strong bodies lug equipment
up 40 flights of stairs,
axes chop, hoses spray,
endless hours without relief.
Ambulances remove the injured.
Finally, hours later,
all residents accounted for,
the blaze is under control.
Firefighters make sure
the flames are out,
hot embers not a threat

to larger conflagration.
Engines return to the station,
the men exhausted,
and hope it’ll be a while
before the next emergency call.

Wayne Lee, 6/25/2018

Current Occupation: Retired
Former Occupation: Writer/Editor
Contact Information: Wayne Lee (wayneleepoet.com) lives Hillsboro, Oregon. Lee’s poems have appeared in Pontoon, Tupelo Press, Slipstream, great weather for media and other journals and anthologies. He was awarded the 2012 Fischer Prize and his collection The Underside of Light was a finalist for the 2014 New Mexico/Arizona Book Award in Poetry. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and three Best of the Net Awards.

#

Shift Work

Thirty-seven years they’ve lived in their bungalow. 
It looks the same now as when they were wed–
steps cracked, shingles missing, gutters sagging low 
as old clotheslines. 

They painted it once, back when Reagan won, 
slapped a dirt-brown coat on walls and trim, splashed
half the windows.

She does 12-hour nights down at the nursing home, 
sleeps till afternoon. He takes what shifts he’s given 
at the mill—swings, days, graveyard.

She smokes and reads paperbacks out on the porch, 
then ducks inside to watch TV. He tinkers 
with their trucks in the fluorescent glare 
of their basement garage.

I see them together once a month or so at dawn
or dusk, pickups passing in half-light.

M.K. Breitfelder, 6/18/2018

Current Occupation: Editor
Former Occupation: supermarket check-out girl, flea market goon, legal secretary, wannabe historian, editor 
Contact Information: M.K. Breitfelder is a writer and editor living in NJ. 

#

Termination

I sit behind the desk and wait. Deep breath, deep breath. In. Hold. Out. In. Hold. Out. Not working. I straighten the stack of papers. 2017 Performance Evaluation. Employee: Milly Cook. Core Competencies. Areas of Focus. Incentive Goals. Unsatisfactory, unsatisfactory, unsatisfactory. What would I say? I had been thinking all day yesterday. All night, too. HR had coached me, but each time is new.

A soft knock on the door.

“Come in.” The words stick in my throat. Nothing. “Come in,” I say, strongly.

Milly pokes her head in, like she always does. Trepidant, almost servile. This annoys me. I instill fear in people?

“Now? It’s good?” she asks, minion-like. Do not do that to me. Not fair.

“Hey there, come on in.”

She’s a large woman, wearing almost clown-like makeup. Dangly bracelets, pink tights, baby blue ballet flats. A walking crazy-quilt.  Almost 20 years older than me, but somehow girlish. She backs into the chair, paying me some compliment. A plastic grin, a nervous head nod. My grin is plastic, too.

“So Mill, I think you know why I scheduled this time,” I begin. The outline of her lips, scarlet; the inside, almost white. Still grinning. Still nodding. Earrings bobbing in time.

“Not my best year.”  A stab at humor, a forced chuckle with that harsh Queens inflection.

“Well, no. But more than that.”

I detail it all: Her repeated failures. Her inability to get it. The classes where she learned nothing. As coached, I give her time between items. To “process.” To respond. She takes it in. The grin is gone. No defense, only defeated murmurs of assent.

How could I be doing this? She’s had such a difficult life. Not difficult. Tragic. I know all the details. The abandoning mother. The cold stepmother. The philandering husband. The ingrate son.

But she had been spoken to, then warned. Many times. Her peers tried.  Her supervisor tried. I tried. What more could I do?

It was sinking in. Her glasses came off. Tears were forming.

She has an inheritance. Her kid is grown up. She can get Medicare in a couple years. I can’t heal her life. She'll probably sue anyway. Big settlement and the last laugh. I hoped so.

“…so I’m left with no other option.”

Deep breath. Deep breath. I have a job to do, too. And I fire her.

 

Steve Slemenda, 6/11/2018

Current Occupation: Retired college instructor; volunteer with various community and professional organizations
Former Occupation: Community College Instructor of English and Film Studies
Contact Information: Until now, Steve Slemenda has been an unpublished poet for 50 of his 66 years.  He is recently retired from a 25 year career teaching English at Chemeketa Community College in Salem, OR, and is active in poetry organizations and events throughout the Willamette Valley. He is a founder of the annual Silverton Poetry Festival. He writes for pleasure and contemplation and, like most poets, because he seems to have no choice. He is preparing a first chapbook of poems.

 

#

Short Order

I was 19 on a hot summer night at a Greyhound rest stop 
in Fresno where I ordered burgers from the old man. 

He wore a slanted paper cook's hat and an apron 
greasy as the smoke that hung in the air. 

His face was sucked into a furrowed toothless frown, 
his mouth an open lipless oval like a pitted peach.

The wrinkled skin of his arms hung like loose dry leather.
His right forearm had a tattoo that said USS California 1913.

His hands were long and raw and bony. He was beautiful and grumpy.  

I wanted one hamburger. But at the window he scowled at me
and barked “You?” and I blurted out "Two cheeseburgers."

At a jukebox in a corner was a plump blonde beehived woman,
her lips moving to the croon of a country western lament.

Her eyes were fixed in a far off inward stare. She had 
big green pastel eyelids and eyelashes like peacock's tails.

Back on the bus moving through the black I-5 night 
I opened the bag and ate the burgers. One had cheese.
 

Craig Brandis, 6/4/2018

 

Current occupation: writer, student
Former occupation: Craig Brandis has picked crops, been a mill worker, a cannery worker, a carpenter, a surveyor, a bus driver, an engineer, and a resident corporate mustapha.
Contact information: Craig Brandis lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon and studies poetry at the Attic in Portland with David Biespiel, Ed Skoog and Matthew Dickman. His goal is to become a working poet – with a small p. He believes that labor, the work of one's hands and heart, is sacred and you shouldn’t give it away to just anybody.  Poetry is culture work. At its best, it becomes insurgent art and a human call to arms. As William Carlos Williams pointed out, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”  His work has been published in the Red River Review, New Verse News, Poetry Quarterly and elsewhere. You can find more of his poetry at www.craigbrandis.com.

 

#

Hanford 1944

We found his body
in an oil drum behind the J&M tavern
left there like a roadkill deer
dressed in denim overalls

Hardly a week goes by here
somebody doesn’t die–
the work grinds all our skulls
as thin as wasp wings

We poured seven foot thick
concrete walls so remote controls
can poke the plutonium dragon
It won’t sleep now until we do

Still it is beautiful here
In between the mud
and the dust storms
and the war on the radio–
an angry cloud of hornets
storming through
a broken front screen door
we can’t ever fix now

#

Logger 

I am hanging upside down 
from the seatbelt in my truck 
after drinking all night
and running off the road 
My daughter left home 
to live with a stoner in Mexico 
Comes back skinny & addicted 
wearing no bra, tits flapping in the breeze 

The doctor says my back is going 
& no more heavy lifting 
so I end up working the burn pile
But it’s okay, I still get a paycheck

I’m flopping around 
sucking for air
like the steelhead 
in the shallow stream 
my brother threw an axe at 
when we were kids 
but couldn’t hit 

& if I could just reach my knife
things would be okay
back to same shit
different day

& the sky looks like
runny pancake batter
& it’s growing 
fuzzy tin stars

& I can’t breathe
& my wife 
is going to kill me

if I haven’t 
saved her 
the trouble 

Craig Brandis, 5/28/2018

Current occupation: writer, student
Former occupation: Craig Brandis has picked crops, been a mill worker, a cannery worker, a carpenter, a surveyor, a bus driver, an engineer, and a resident corporate mustapha.
Contact information: Craig Brandis lives in Lake Oswego, Oregon and studies poetry at the Attic in Portland with David Biespiel, Ed Skoog and Matthew Dickman. His goal is to become a working poet – with a small p. He believes that labor, the work of one's hands and heart, is sacred and you shouldn’t give it away to just anybody.  Poetry is culture work. At its best, it becomes insurgent art and a human call to arms. As William Carlos Williams pointed out, “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”  His work has been published in the Red River Review, New Verse News, Poetry Quarterly and elsewhere. You can find more of his poetry at www.craigbrandis.com.

 

#

Tower Worker – West of Mt. Hood

I am 
a broken bird
and I am dying
It took me five seconds 
to fall four hundred feet down 
the hollow leg of a radio tower 
I was helping to build on Council 
Crest. One second ago, molecules 
of concrete, individual ones, seemed 
to know my name. Two seconds ago my 
left boot caught the side wall, flipping me 
over. Three seconds ago, my buddy tried to 
grab my belt and missed. Four seconds ago my 
new safety clip failed. The spring was too stiff and
and it slipped off the railing. Five seconds ago I just 
noticed there was a strand of my wife’s hair on my sleeve
I had gotten to work before sunrise and climbed to the top of the
tower. The sun was rising behind Mt. Hood and my first impulse was
to jump–like it alway is, like I can fly. I felt a quickening too, like a seed 
but there was something feeding on my un-ripening. I felt fine-wired 
to the sunlight. Like all the electrical cables I had pulled the length 
of the tower, life was a field of layered grids, all wired hot
and if I just flew above them, always doing tower work
maybe sometimes dipping low but still staying above 
them, I could sail forever. The clouds behind the
mountain were sighing and I could see into 
the nothingness that reached forever
around me. Somewhere the smell
of mint and something else 
on the wind too, a bird
just above me, a
seagull with an
orange beak
and dark 
wing 
tips
 

#

Sex Worker in Shinjuku

In the hard loud alone of Shinjuku
in a bento box theater, rows 
of salary men in white shirts
pack together like eggs
to watch a live sex show

One woman on stage uses a device 
and her well-trained muscles
to shoot cigarettes from her vagina 
into the audience – Hai!

Another plays rock paper scissors
to select men from the eager front rows
who want to have sex with her on stage
One man can't get it up and she tells us 
behind his back with her drooping finger

I am embarrassed that my group 
of American business colleagues
have urged our Japanese hosts to bring us here
though they seem to think nothing of it
After a few minutes, I am oddly bored
As I get up to leave, the pretty blond woman 
on stage with the salaryman wrapped 
around her like an abandoned carousel horse
calls out to us in english. Goodbye, she says
over the heads of the crowd as if to say 
I am lost, but you don't have to be

#

Road Work

She’s leaking hydraulic, he says
and lowers the blade of his D8 dozer
to the ground and shuts it down

The smell of newly exposed 
forest soil mixes 
with diesel exhaust

Robins drop from the trees
to feast on the sudden 
bloom of nightcrawlers

There is a boulder in the road bed
he needs to dynamite anyway
He can replace the broken hose later

Jumping down from the track, he catches
a glimpse of  an impossibly blue egg shell 
in the dirt at the edge of the cut bank

He drills an eighteen inch hole
in the boulder and gently packs the hole
with a full stick & back fills with gravel

He runs the wires 
two hundred feet back 
Yells for everyone to stay clear

Fire in the hole!
He touches the wires 
to an old truck battery

When the deep thud hits his chest
he stands still, looking straight up for falling rocks
every other time but this one

This time he forgot
For no fucking reason
he just forgot

 

Colette Tennant, 5/21/2018

Current Occupation: Professor of English, Corban University, Salem, OR
Former Occupation:  I worked in retail and as a waitress for years. Some of this poem is based on that.
Your Short Biographical Statement: Colette Tennant is an English professor where she teaches creative writing and literature at a small university in Salem, Oregon. She has two books of poetry, Commotion of Wings and Eden and After. She is currently compiling her third poetry book. She likes to travel and play Scrabble when she isn’t grading papers.

 

#

In the Museum of Part-Time Jobs

Everyone has a name tag
that jabs in just above their heart.

Some wear gaudy green aprons,
heavy as military canvas.

Some herd grocery carts like dirty sheep,
shepherd them into single file.

Some lift handfuls of wet salad,
shove them into plastic bowls.

Some make change at a drive-through window,
the intercom scratchy as an infected throat.

Some serve ice cream to old men at the counter
then watch as they chew it every time.

Some fill sugar bowls and salt shakers
with a million grains of whitest white. 

Every night, they polish coffee makers 
till they shine to sleep.

Some fold the t-shirts small to extra-large, 
collars round as yawns.

Some clean the fitting rooms,
empty dresses tried and rejected.

Most here smile on demand,
know the customers are always right – 

the woman who insists she had asked for soy milk,
the man who wants “whooped cream.”

Time clocks emotionless as Kafka 
ka-chunk greetings and farewells.

As they leave, lights dim, 
doors lock tight behind them.

Everyone’s car appears to be the last one in the parking lot. 

They listen hard to be sure their footsteps are the only ones they hear.