The Sport of Kings

Daniel Marlin, Seamstress Angel
Daniel Marlin, Seamstress Angel

Blue Collar

When I went to work
The Vietnam War was hot
My boyhood friends rode west in planes
Like flies into a sky-blue electrocuting trap
I sent my ticket back and wrote
Don't bother me again

The job I got at French's --
Cleaning every shithouse in the plant
— Let's see if the college kid lasts
Eight bathrooms in eight nights
Mustard flour caked on walls ducts pipes
Permanently cemented to yellow green gloom
Floors stained toilets fouled
Cubicles of since dripped and dried grit
When I finished a shift
Mopping backward to the door
Jack the surly Irish boss
Lisped out his toothless gums
It's even better than the others you did
Disbelief in place of plaudits

Then taking on the mill and bran cutes
I filled barrels of Worcestershire
And bagged mustard husks in jute sacks
While waiting on the ovens to turn
And clocked 375% production pay
They hated my guts
Returning home past midnight
Over snowy Rochester streets
I thought of Emma Goldman
And was received by my Guardians
So iatric and kind I knew I was blessed
They stayed up to warm food
"It's toil," Mary warned in her kitchen
And her husband added, "X number of years"
To tell me to pursue a dream of the mind
As my hands blistered and calloused
And seeds once embedded
Stayed in the yellowing flesh
A statuary of confusion and pride

In the shudder and scream of the mill
Dust settled on sweat then raised burns
Men went home a week unpaid
Others scoffed, "He ain't no child"
I wore long-sleeved shirts
No one approached but an old collier
Who had known the five-mile deep dark
Of a Pennsylvania mine
He spoke in an Elizabethan cadence
"Cut (the) BULLshit SON let's TAKE (a) BREAK"
How to get free I didn't know
Any prowess is bitter
Cities were on fire
I allowed myself $30 a week
For cigarettes and larks
Lake excursions with the neighborhood children
Shipboard celebrants didn't look
As I shielded black Rachel in my jacket
While wind whipped everybody's clothes

Oh the silly songs of a murderous time
And we welcomed the songs
Winchester Cathedral (you're bringing me down/
You didn't do nothing/My baby left town)
Fluttered over the radio
On country roves with Monica
She floored her mother's episcopal Chrysler
Among the hot fields of corn
The car bounced in leaps down the lanes
Life burst loose from my fugitive heart
I laughed and the afternoon hills rolled like Umbria

At Geneseo she cradled my hand in her angelic palms
And said I love to touch them
I knew I was weary but would work that night
Would always work and always be a thorn
Where handfuls of fragrant grease
Might apply more comfortably
And even in my life's chance-chosen craft
To weave through the California hills
Something always lacked in calculation--
Forebear, be good to people, my contrary vow
Only a fool would persist in that one
Led me to daily strife and spleen
Because if you cannot fail you're in trouble
But it is such a joy to rise and labor and
In one and the same act rain down rebuke
On the ceremonies of the living dead
And never profane my language

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