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.

 

#

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

 

 

#

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 

 

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