Mary Slocum, 4/16/2012

Current Occupation: retired social worker

Contact Information: 17 year shipyard electrician

Contact Information: A poet since she was 14, Mary Slocum was the last winner of the Portland Artquake competition in the 90s and a winner of Washington State Poetry Assn. humorous poetry competition in the 90s. Mary Slocum has been published in Stanza, NW Literary Review, Upper Left Edge, Tradeswomen’s Network Newsletter, Black Cat, Portland Alliance, Work, Uphook and Carcenogenic. She enjoys reading more than publishing and has also appeared with a comedy collective. She has just published a complete collection called GREATEST HITS: 60 YEARS OF LOOKIN with Dancing Moon Press (order here!). Her website:



It’s a meeting and we’re all required to attend

Two hours of discussion barely pertaining to life,

People balancing language like another dog and pony show

Giving meaning to the meaningless, justifying their existence.

Artificial smiles arrive at the table, sit there perched

Just beyond the glazed empty of authority gone awry.

Nervous laughter, someone else’s idea of social

Bounces about in sickening pleasantries.

My team, located at the bottom of the food chain

Waits, knowing when it’s over, the ache

Of new knives plunged deep into hard working bodies,

And they pay us to “play nice”.

This playground ritual engendered in all of us

Makes me want to raise my hand for a hall pass,

Barf and run from the building,

Set off alarms to cause a diversion,

Run away anyplace but here

Cause every week the pit of my stomach

Pleads for excuse and every week

Their pleasant bloodletting leaves the back dripping

Every week we show up on payday

Cause we still have a pint of blood between us

And there’s plenty of work left to do.



Brothers and sisters of the bilge

Lost a sibling

One more available place

For friends, brothers, or in-laws

to make good money.

Noxious, evil intruding elements

In places dark, damp, oily,

Too small for reasonable humans.

It pays good money.

I never knew Tom

The former filler of the vacancy

But the sorrow mixed with the fumes.

Tom died, you know,

They made sure we all knew.

Heard the stories of his passing,

Leaving wife and kids behind,

Leaving all of us behind.

I never knew him

But one who did

Painted his eulogy

On three sheets of plywood

By the gangway

“Rest in Peace,

Tom, One of the Good Ones,


I never knew him

But his bilge brothers

Made sure I did.



I take it to the grinding wheel,

Sparks fly as pieces of odd metal liberate themselves.

My eyes try to close behind the rain of sparks,

Scratching at the plastic shield, trying to get in.

I’m making it fit , making it of use.

Moving the steel continuously across the stone,

Avoiding the pitting of the stone, keeping it smooth and rounded.

Even wear is all we ever want from a stone

Destroying itself to make things useful. Even wear.

Pieces of slag that buried my steel

Throw themselves, on fire,

Through our atmosphere.

The air tastes of steel, burn and smolder,

Heat deep, from friction gives the steel

More hardness, and the hands avoid

But always touch, by accident leaving mark of steel

On body, steel marked by body, scars shared.

Slag perches everywhere, in windowsills, under furniture,

No containing it, it lives on brooms never finding it all.

Steel, worked and polished to fit,

Perfectly, proudly, prices are paid.

The useless leaving behind

The useful and moving on.

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