Brookshire had come to work second shift at Walker Manufacturing the day it opened and stayed until the recession shut it down a dozen years later. He was an end finisher, six-foot-four and strong enough to hang the bent and welded tailpipes and mufflers on a fast-moving chain that would loop them through a room-sized oven for rustproofing. He loaded and unloaded them left-handed until that arm was so muscular it looked like the claw of a human fiddler crab, until that hand was so thickly calloused he didn’t need to wear protective gloves when he handled the rough or heated metal. He liked the work, its good wage and routine and not having to think about what he did. He liked his forearm, its Popeye tattoo that slowly vanished underneath the grime of a nine-hour shift, as daylight itself clocked out while he worked. He liked leaving the plant at one-thirty in the morning exhausted, especially in the summer, walking into the cool mountain night dark as the water that would soon be flowing from his skin as he carefully scrubbed away all the filth that had seeped through his clothes, blackening his pale body utterly except where his underwear and socks had been. His sleep was clean and deep and very long. To work is to get dirty then get paid.
Copyright © 2001 Michael McFee. From Earthly (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2001) by Michael McFee. Used with permission of the author.
Michael McFee is the author of numerous poetry collections, including We Were Once Here (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017). He lives in North Carolina.
Date Published: 2017-09-26
Source URL: https://poets.org/poem/work-2