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: www.maryslocum.com
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.