Once again, Monday slipped by me before I could post a poem, here are two worth waiting for. Everyone thinks of Philip Levine as the poetic champion of the blue-collar worker, but I vote for Dorianne Laux.
The Shipfitter’s Wife
I loved him most
when he came home from work,
his fingers still curled from fitting pipe,
his denim shirt ringed with sweat
and smelling of salt, the drying weeds
of the ocean. I’d go to where he sat
on the edge of the bed, his forehead
anointed with grease, his cracked hands
jammed between his thighs, and unlace
the steel-toed boots, stroke his ankles
and calves, the pads and bones of his feet.
Then I’d open his clothes and take
the whole day inside me — the ship’s
gray sides, the miles of copper pipe,
the voice of the foreman clanging
off the hull’s silver ribs. Spark of lead
kissing metal. The clamp, the winch,
the white fire of the torch, the whistle,
and the long drive home.
Oh, the Water
You are the hero of this poem,
the one who leans into the night
and shoulders the stars, smoking
a cigarette you’ve sworn is your last
before reeling the children into bed.
Or you’re the last worker on the line,
lifting labeled crates onto the dock,
brown arms bare to the elbow,
your shirt smelling of seaweed and soap.
You’re the oldest daughter
of an exhausted mother, an inconsolable
father, sister to the stones thrown down
on your path. You’re the brother
who warms his own brother’s bottle,
whose arm falls asleep along the rail of his crib.
We’ve stood next to you in the checkout line,
watched you flip through tabloids or stare
at the face on the TV Guide as if it were the moon,
your cart full of cereal, toothpaste, shampoo,
day-old bread, bags of gassed fruit,
frozen pizzas on sale for 2.99.
In the car you might slide in a tape,
listen to Van Morrison sing Oh, the Water.
You stop at the light and hum along, alone.
When you slam the trunk in the driveway,
spilling the groceries, dropping your keys,
you’re someone’s love, their one brave hope;
and if they don’t run to greet you or help
with the load, they can hear you,
they know you’ve come home.