Hanging Onto Our Selves

November 25, 2016
By Fred Voss
Cultural Weekly  (October 20, 2016)

Forty years working as a machinist, poet Fred Voss zeroes in on the quiet danger of repetitive work and how comradeship and imagination transcend the boredom and the threat. 

Hanging Onto Our Selves
By Fred Voss
We fill egg trays with 30 identical beryllium copper electrical connectors each
	stack the trays
	until they reach for the machine shop ceiling
	we make hundreds
	thousands hundreds of thousands of identical beryllium copper electrical connectors
	until they come out our ears
	and we dream them in midnight dreams and seem to eat them
	for breakfast but we
	are each so different Merlin
	sleeps in his van he parks in the Home Depot parking lot all week
	after driving from the high desert over the mountains 90 miles
	to work
	and sings opera
	at his machine until he cries then smiles like some crazy clown saint doing a comical waltz
	around his machine as his fingers cut to shreds by the sharp copper connectors drip
	stinking cutting oil
	Ishmael
	keeps swordfish swords propped against his workbench by his toolbox with the pictures
	of the thousand pound swordfish he once pulled from the sea
	says the sea
	is his woman and talks of how he wants to cruise her with a harpoon in his fist a swordfisherman
	once again as soon as he can and we worry
	Ishmael will cut off his fingers reaching for electrical connectors next to razor-sharp cutters
	as his eyes glaze over
	and beautiful swordfish leap from the sea as he hurls the harpoon
	in his mind
	those shiny red-brown beryllium copper electrical connectors stack
	toward the factory ceiling
	each identical to within thousandth-of-an-inch blueprint dimensions
	as we
	stare across our machines at each other and try to be as different
	as we can
	Carl
	still furious at the 10 years he spent caged in prison for killing a man
	with his bare hands on a downtown L.A. street corner staring
	at the tin walls as his machine runs until his eyes fill with tears
	that never fall
	as he balls his fists up and turns those tears into punches
	at the air
	and me
	a million miles away in my mind running as far as I can from the numbing boredom
	of a million identical electrical connectors to seize
	these poems out of thin air
	and set myself free.
Fred Voss has been a machinist for 40 years. He won the 2016 Joe Hill Labor Poetry Award. His latest poetry book, Hammers and Hearts of the Gods, was selected a Book of the Year 2009 by The Morning Star (U.K) and is available on Amazon. In 2015 he published his novel, Making America Strong.
	 


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