After working 32 years in machine shops I find myself wishing men were like worm screws and only needed 9 or 10 squirts of clear lube grease out of a grease gun squirted on them to work smoothly in machine shops suddenly out of nowhere I have seen men throw 100-pound vises punches I have seen them suddenly start screaming and spit on the man at the machine next to them if only men could be like machines and be calibrated to repeat their movements day after day and year after year to within one ten thousandth of an inch perfection if only we could call in our maintenance man and he could fix men with taps of his hammer turns of his wrench squirts from his red long-necked oil can if only men didn’t go slowly mad because the man on the machine next to them has been whistling “Georgy Girl” off-key into their ears for 10 years if only a new gear belt or wire or set of ball bearings or adjustment with crowbar and screwdriver could set them humming smoothly again like the head of a Bridgeport milling machine a machine doesn’t read religious tracts or set burning crosses on front lawns or worry because the man on the radial drill wears a pink shirt and might be gay a machine doesn’t sit on a steel stool in the corner of the shop and start crying because it can’t bear machining one more doorknob a machine doesn’t need to bet on horses or kneel down in church pews or knock out a man’s teeth because he stepped on its toe or chase its wife’s lover down a sidewalk with a baseball bat all it needs is some grease and some oil and a concrete floor to be happy as a clam or a red rose or Venus shining in a pink morning sky.
Fred Voss has been a machinist for 30 years, picking up the pen and the wrench to chronicle what goes on between tin walls. He has published three books of poems with Bloodaxe, Goodstone (1991), Carnegie Hall with Tin Walls (1998) and Hammers and Hearts of the Gods (2009). His work has been featured prominently by the magazines Bete Noire in Britain and the Wormwood Review in the US. He also won the 1988 Wormwood Award. Love Birds, a collaboration with his poet wife Joan Jobe Smith, won the 1996 Chiron Prize. He lives in Long Beach, California, and works in a nearby factory.