Tooth and Fang and Machine Handle
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
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
waited for Santa Claus when we were 3
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
with the blood of tigers leaping for the kill
our feet into concrete floor and fight
deep in the sea sink their teeth
and rattlesnakes coil and bare their fangs ready
and Roberto and I glance at each other’s sweaty faces and wish
for a world that would let us be
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.
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