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What Work Is: A Labor Day List

MyKillAdoreHer” by Paul Martínez Pompa:

After standing for hours, the room begins to blur. Her mouth opens like an empty wallet as naked dolls march on.

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Untitled” by Xu Lizhi:

I swallowed a moon made of iron

They refer to it as a nail

I swallowed this industrial sewage, these unemployment documents

Youth stooped at machines die before their time

I swallowed the hustle and the destitution

Swallowed pedestrian bridges, life covered in rust

I can’t swallow any more

All that I’ve swallowed is now gushing out of my throat

Unfurling on the land of my ancestors

Into a disgraceful poem.

*

Business” by Naomi Shihab Nye:

What it is to be lonesome for stacked papers

on a desk, under glass globe,

brass vase with standing pencils,

new orders.

How quickly urgencies of doing disappear.

And where is the child from the next apartment,

whose crying kept him awake

these last terrible months?

Where do you file this unknowing?

*

On the Loss of Energy (and Other Things)” by June Jordan:

IF YOU EAT MEAT

HOW YOU PLAN TO PAY THE RENT?

I SAID

THE OILWELLS DRIBBLIN

LOWER THAN A SNAKE

AND SOON WON’T BE NO HEAT

AND SO YOU MIGHT AS WELL EAT MEAT

EXCEPT THERE AINT NO

MEAT TO EAT

I SAID

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Vocation” by Sandra Beasley:

I type ninety-one words per minute, all of them

Help.

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Find Work” by Rhina P. Espaillat:

But I recall her floors, scrubbed white as bone,

her dishes, and how painfully they shone.

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Negative” by Kevin Young:

Only money keeps

green, still grows & burns like grass

under dark daylight.

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In the Year of ‘No Work’” by Michael Nienow:

. . . and the bait arced out over the tidal current

on a point in view of   the town where I lived,

where I had become a man

with no money,

suddenly concerned only with money, for there were mouths

and I had helped to make them —

*

What Work Is” by Philip Levine:

We stand in the rain in a long line

waiting at Ford Highland Park. For work.

You know what work is—if you’re

old enough to read this you know what

work is, although you may not do it.

Forget you. This is about waiting,

shifting from one foot to another.

Feeling the light rain falling like mist

into your hair, blurring your vision

until you think you see your own brother

ahead of you, maybe ten places.

*

Blood on the Wheel” by Juan Felipe Herrera:

Blood of the orphan weasel in heat, the Calvinist farmer in wheat

Blood of the lettuce rebellion on the rise, the cannery worker’s prize

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Shirt” by Robert Pinsky:

We have culled its cost and quality

Down to the buttons of simulated bone . . .

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kitchenette building” by Gwendolyn Brooks:

We are things of dry hours and the involuntary plan,

Grayed in, and gray. “Dream” makes a giddy sound, not strong

Like “rent,” “feeding a wife,” “satisfying a man.”

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Calling Him Back from Layoff” by Bob Hicok:

After he hung up I went outside and sat

with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left

it changes the song of the oriole

and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak

sizzles in his kitchen do the seven

other people staring at their phones

hear?

*

How Things Work” by Gary Soto:

As far as I can tell, daughter, it works like this:

You buy bread from a grocery, a bag of apples

From a fruit stand, and what coins

Are passed on helps others buy pencils, glue,

Tickets to a movie in which laughter

Is thrown into their faces.

*

Work Shy” by Alex Phillips:

God sticks you with the smallest pins

and your blood, the red is diluted.

Imagine a tiny hole, the other side

of which is a fat world and how

lost you would feel. Of course,

I’m speaking to myself.

How lost I would feel, and how dangerous.

*

At the Office Holiday Party” by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz:

I don’t know how to look like I’m not struggling.

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Nightshift at the Pool Hall” by Sean Thomas Dougherty:

to strive for                                        a manifesto

written across a table’s mess           with a wet dish rag

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Junk” by Richard Wilbur:

The heart winces

For junk and gimcrack,

for jerrybuilt things

And the men who make them

for a little money . . .

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To be of use” by Marge Piercy:

The pitcher cries for water to carry

and a person for work that is real.

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