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The Two

When he gets off work at Packard, they meet
outside a diner on Grand Boulevard. He's tired,
a bit depressed, and smelling the exhaustion
on his own breath, he kisses her carefully
on her left cheek. Early April, and the weather
has not decided if this is spring, winter, or what.
The two gaze upwards at the sky which gives
nothing away: the low clouds break here and there
and let in tiny slices of a pure blue heaven.
The day is like us, she thinks; it hasn't decided 
what to become. The traffic light at Linwood
goes from red to green and the trucks start up,
so that when he says, "Would you like to eat?"
she hears a jumble of words that mean nothing,
though spiced with things she cannot believe,
"wooden Jew" and "lucky meat." He's been up 
late, she thinks, he's tired of the job, perhaps tired
of their morning meetings, but when he bows
from the waist and holds the door open
for her to enter the diner, and the thick 
odor of bacon frying and new potatoes
greets them both, and taking heart she enters
to peer through the thick cloud of tobacco smoke
to the see if "their booth" is available.
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote that there were no
second acts in America, but he knew neither
this man nor this woman and no one else
like them unless he stayed late at the office
to test his famous one liner, "We keep you clean
Muscatine," on the woman emptying
his waste basket. Fitzgerald never wrote 
with someone present, except for this woman
in a gray uniform whose comings and goings
went unnoticed even on those December evenings
she worked late while the snow fell silently
on the window sills and the new fluorescent lights
blinked on and off. Get back to the two, you say.
Not who ordered poached eggs, who ordered 
only toast and coffee, who shared the bacon
with the other, but what became of the two
when this poem ended, whose arms held whom,
who first said "I love you" and truly meant it,
and who misunderstood the words, so longed
for, and yet still so unexpected, and began
suddenly to scream and curse until the waitress
asked them both to leave. The Packard plant closed
years before I left Detroit, the diner was burned
to the ground in '67, two years before my oldest son
fled to Sweden to escape the American dream.
"And the lovers?" you ask. I wrote nothing about lovers.
Take a look. Clouds, trucks, traffic lights, a diner, work,
a wooden shoe, East Moline, poached eggs, the perfume
of frying bacon, the chaos of language, the spices
of spent breath after eight hours of night work.
Can you hear all I feared and never dared to write?
Why the two are more real than either you or me,
why I never returned to keep them in my life,
how little I now mean to myself or anyone else,
what any of this could mean, where you found
the patience to endure these truths and confessions?

Drum

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.

Ars Poetica

—Detroit, Michigan

Broad-ribbed leaves of the calathea plant
trickle water down into the mouth of its pot
as if it's still fighting off competitors in the wild

as kittens scamper past, the knees of their 
hind legs bending backwards with inhuman
ease, like teenage boys leaping for rebounds

on playgrounds, their hourglass sleekness
glistening like the shards of forty-ounces
littering the court: sons of southern

autoworkers still unfamiliar with the Michigan
that has taken them in, girls watching
from windows as they care for the children

of older sisters. The act of wanting offers
only the hope of movement, for every target
an aim, lives spent in the in-between,

multitudes of coexisting in this particular filament
as if no other were possible—American engines
turning in a summertime traffic jam, white clouds

from factories as if shift whistles sent them forth:
the mind propelled by possibility and promise,
an unbreakable stasis. The person who wanted us

has come and gone several times like a tulip
bulb's inhaled and exhaled lives: desire,
the seed itself, creating. See what others

see in us, that gem which no one owns,
our skin a concept, a bloom of imagination
like one's own yearning unfulfilled—unchecked

as poison ivy, the fumes of its combustion
more dangerous than the vine ignored.
Boys want shots to drop. Girls want

what's through the window, not anything
close by or far afield, just the usual.
Cat-backed Swedish and German automobiles

scoot down the boulevard, someone
else's barbecue cooking across the street.
Desire never lies beyond what's given.

I have hated the second-hand world. Who was
that person divided between the glances of passersby?
Bodies decompose, even in memory—

the hand-in-hand of melted hourglass,
bloody hips of gifted tulips detached
and traveling the earth, until the mind

puts an end to them like breakers
washing out to sea. "Fine neighbors,"
someone will say. "Quiet types,"

because no one really knew them
until the press run. Packing kernels inundate
the universe: far off, coalescence; close in,

vibration and sparking. Upon 
each smooth surface, each body,
Picasso portraits, light and dark.