Take this quiet woman, she has been standing before a polishing wheel for over three hours, and she lacks twenty minutes before she can take a lunch break. Is she a woman? Consider the arms as they press the long brass tube against the buffer, they are striated along the triceps, the three heads of which clearly show. Consider the fine dusting of dark down above the upper lip, and the beads of sweat that run from under the red kerchief across the brow and are wiped away with a blackening wrist band in one odd motion a child might make to say No! No! You must come closer to find out, you must hang your tie and jacket in one of the lockers in favor of a black smock, you must be prepared to spend shift after shift hauling off the metal trays of stock, bowing first, knees bent for a purchase, then lifting with a gasp, the first word of tenderness between the two of you, then you must bring new trays of dull unpolished tubes. You must feed her, as they say in the language of the place. Make no mistake, the place has a language, and if by some luck the power were cut, the wheel slowed to a stop so that you suddenly saw it was not a solid object but so many separate bristles forming in motion a perfect circle, she would turn to you and say, "Why?" Not the old why of why must I spend five nights a week? Just, "Why?" Even if by some magic you knew, you wouldn't dare speak for fear of her laughter, which now you have anyway as she places the five tapering fingers of her filthy hand on the arm of your white shirt to mark you for your own, now and forever.
Philip Levine - 1928-2015
Leo's Tool & Die, 1950
In the early morning before the shop opens, men standing out in the yard on pine planks over the umber mud. The oil drum, squat, brooding, brimmed with metal scraps, three-armed crosses, silver shavings whitened with milky oil, drill bits bitten off. The light diamonds last night's rain; inside a buzzer purrs. The overhead door stammers upward to reveal the scene of our day. We sit for lunch on crates before the open door. Bobeck, the boss's nephew, squats to hug the overflowing drum, gasps and lifts. Rain comes down in sheets staining his gun-metal covert suit. A stake truck sloshes off as the sun returns through a low sky. By four the office help has driven off. We sweep, wash up, punch out, collect outside for a final smoke. The great door crashes down at last. In the darkness the scents of mint, apples, asters. In the darkness this could be a Carthaginian outpost sent to guard the waters of the West, those mounds could be elephants at rest, the acrid half light the haze of stars striking armor if stars were out. On the galvanized tin roof the tunes of sudden rain. The slow light of Friday morning in Michigan, the one we waited for, shows seven hills of scraped earth topped with crab grass, weeds, a black oil drum empty, glistening at the exact center of the modern world.