The Student

by Matthew Chambers
Smokestacks penetrate the sky,
ejecting gas and steam into the air.
The refinery teems with specks scurrying
up and down rods peaked with fire.
One dangles on a string,
slipping down a holding tank.
Oil oozes from the machine
and his pores. He scrapes the
sticky surface with a short trowel.
He glances down. 
A river rests below him,
hiding a deadly undercurrent.
Over a railing, two pairs of eyes spot 
his line, staring into the blue below.
One speaks, the other laughs.
You said you ain’t digging ditches no more.
Good thing you can swim.
He turns left.
Some miles down-the-road
his rivals still sleep in daylight,
or flee hangovers in libraries,
looking for books that tell them 
to build rockets or mix chemicals
or fix people, and not how to tear 
dead scabs from a stinking container
half-a-mile wide while hanging over 
the Mississippi for an audience
of two dry-duck puppeteers.
He faces forward and starts scraping.