[from B. H. Fairchild's Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, Norton, 2003]
The Potato Eaters
They are gathered there, as I recall, in the descending light
of Kansas autumn -- the welder, the machinist, the foreman,
the apprentice -- with their homemade dinners
in brown sacks lying before them on the broken rotary table.
The shop lights have not yet come on. The sun ruffling
the horizon of wheat fields lifts their gigantic shadows
up over the lathes that stand momentarily still and immense,
sleeping gray animals released from the turmoil,
the grind of iron and steel, these past two days.
There is something in the droop of the men's sleeves
and heavy underwater movements of their arms and hands
that suggest they are a dream and I am the dreamer,
even though I am there, too. I have just delivered the dinners
and wait in a pool of shadows, unsure of what to do next.
They unwrap the potatoes from the aluminum foil
with an odd delicacy, and I notice their still blackened hands
as they halve and butter them. The coffee sends up steam
like lathe smoke, and their bodies relax slowly
as they give themselves to the pleasure of the food
and the shop's strange silence after hours of noise,
the clang of iron and the burst and hiss of the cutting torch.
Without looking up, the machinist says something
to anyone who will listen, says it into the great cave
of the darkening shop, and I hear the words, life,
my life. I am a boy, so I do not know true weariness
but I can sense what these words mean, these gestures
when I stare at the half-eaten potatoes, the men,
the shadows that will pale and vanish as the lights come on.
Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest: Poems