On the machines Roberto can sometimes cut out 15 motorcycle sidecar yokes per hour while I cut 17 on other days he can cut 16 yokes and I can cut 15 we race like that through the weeks and the years cutting door latches and wheelchair hubs and padlock keys out of aluminum and steel Cain picks up his club and kills his brother Abel a homeless man laid off a year ago tries to sleep behind an alley dumpster as we race each other on these machines fighting to be the one left with a job after the layoff and horses race nose to nose to the wire cocks scratch out each other’s eyes gladiators fight to the death Finally the break buzzer blares and we sit on our steel stools and munch sandwiches Roberto from South Central L.A. barrio trying to stay out of the gangs I from Long Beach trying to write poems that will make us both immortal we both waited for Santa Claus when we were 3 touched our toes to our first Pacific Ocean wave when we were 5 kissed a girl’s lips and opened a new world kneeled at our dying father’s hospital bedside and held his hand and cried What has set us racing against each other to see who gets shoved out the door onto a mean street where men die? The buzzer blares ending the break and we are up off our stools in a shot hands white-knuckled squeezing machine handles hearts pounding with the blood of tigers leaping for the kill we dig our feet into concrete floor and fight to survive as sharks deep in the sea sink their teeth into flesh and rattlesnakes coil and bare their fangs ready to strike and Roberto and I glance at each other’s sweaty faces and wish for a world that would let us be human.
Fred Voss, a machinist for 32 years, has had three collections of poetry published by the UK’s Bloodaxe Books. His latest, Hammers and Hearts of The Gods, was selected a Book of the Year 2009 by The Morning Star. He is regularly published in magazines such as Poetry Review, Ambit, Rising, The Shop, Atlanta Review and Pearl, and has twice been the subject of feature programs about his poetry on National BBC Radio 4. In 2012 he and his wife poet Joan Jobe Smith were featured at The Humber Mouth Literature Festival in Hull. In 2011 he was featured poet in a hardbound limited edition of Dwang, and his collection, Tooth and Fang and Machine Handle was winner in The Nerve Cowboy 2013 Chapbook Contest. In winter 2013 World Parade Books will publish his first novel, Making America Strong.