(from A Field Guide to the Heavens)

Hooking boxes of dogfish
across the packinghouse floor,
take the fat grease pencil you
use to mark 36/BOS or 42/NY
on the split-pine boxlids
and draw a circle around
the place where labor becomes
surplus or where my stepfather’s
cigarette, thirty cents a pack
in those days, went sparkling
from his lip when his boot
hit the wet ice, when he went
under the wheels of the forklift:
Three cents a pound, twenty thousand
pounds, packed in ice and stacked:
Take your allowance for boxes,
the box-makers in their wire cages
pumping pedals, take your
allowance for diesel, take
the boat’s share, the owner’s
two shares, the skipper’s son’s
half-share, take making that ripped
pair of gloves last another week,
take him hot soup and bread,
take him his worthless union card
and his thermos of coffee
and his watchcap over his ears:
You can’t save him – he only
wanted to come home to a hot supper,
hash and eggs in the blackened pan
and then lean against the iron stove
to warm his back before bed.
But there’s nothing you can do
in your small child’s terror
when the woman says, What
will we eat? How will we live?

You will eat and you will live,
this time, in this life, though
in other times, you have perished,
and on winter mornings thereafter
you have risen to the lunch pail
and drifted along the glazed wharves
and reckoned your wage on your fingers,
your hard eye drawing its essential light
skyward from the idle trawlers
while they locked and buckled
in the freezing harbor.



More Poems from A Field Guide to the Heavens:

The Tree
When Lilacs