by David Solway (October 2022)
Steel Workers, Philo B. Ruggles and John Ruggles, 1939
Men at Work
A civilization is built on what is required of men, not what is provided for them. —Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Women are always saying, “We can do anything that men can do.” But Men should be saying, “We can do anything that women can do.” —Gloria Steinem
I am watching four separate work crews directly across the street
engaged in leveling 237,883 square feet of city block
in preparation for extending the local mall, already hugely impressive
and soon to become gargantuan.
Two great CATS are clawing up acres of earth.
Several tractors are scurrying about ploughing and scooping up debris
and depositing it in corrugated dumpsters,
which are then hauled away on 18-wheel flatbed rigs.
A fleet of loaded F150s is delivering materials to every corner of the site.
A 120 foot mobile crane is lifting long modular trailers onto the roof of the mall.
Two Samvik 1500 tread-mounted Rockline Drivers
are drilling through the surface parking lot to house pillars and girders.
Water trucks are laying the dust clouds and hosing down the giant CATS.
Refueling tankers come and go at regular intervals.
Lengths of wide-girth polymer concrete pipe are being lowered
into freshly dug trenches.
A troop of men with picks and shovels, filing between the Porta Potties,
are busy with the finer details, clearing up rubble
and smoothing out the smaller protuberances of gravel and tussock.
Others are perched precariously on ladders
refurbishing the exposed facades with lattices of grillwork.
Still others are dredging pools of liquid silt,
hoisting and dragging thick plastic tubing and steel rods
and unrolling bolts of rubber sheeting and bales of insulation.
The foreman, wearing a mud-bespattered white helmet and carrying a clipboard
scored with intricate notations like a page of music
is in earnest conversation with two well-tailored gentlemen,
whom I later discover represent the architectural firm
that won the tender for the project.
Soon even they are covered in grit and grime and gilings.
This is the academy of effort and sweat.
This is the real thing.
This is what is meant by Men at Work.
And again with their wings against your windows … —Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, “Rima LIII,” Book of the Sparrows
It sat on the edge of the highway
near enough to the landscaped margin
to provide a touch of irony,
wings folded the way a spectator
folds his arms as if to gauge
the contestants in any event.
I slowed down for an instant, conscience
on the brakes, expedience
in the rearview mirror, then slammed
the pedal to the floor. The car
spurted wings and flew down the very
same highway. It was only an instant
but long and bright enough to reveal
the blink in its bird’s-eye view from below.
The small head turning calmly observed
the traffic: no revving of feathers,
stalled by a thunderous exit, it
awaited the outcome as if uninvolved.
I had good reasons for not stopping:
the traffic, the bird was half-dead anyway,
I had to get home before rush hour,
what did I know about broken wings?
Today I passed the bird again, now
tossed on a shore of gravel, abandoned
like a small boat or a bottle
without a note in it, wings spread
like a crack in the windshield, as hushed
and startling as a verdict.
He’s a tubby little guy with a lot of pizzazz
and a love of layered reference—
LOL, Dizzy Gillespie blowing lexical jazz
and famous as Seamus. He detoured thence
into glitterati stardom and a thumb-down instrument,
not bad for a busker, pretty good for a poet, hence,
frolicking at Easter when it’s actually Lent,
he never lacks for confidence.
A tubby little guy who’s dressed to the left,
touseled and wind-blown, a real corker
of bluster and glitz, yet classically deft
in the role of Alceste at The New Yorker.
The maestro strums, a talent rather scant.
The poet writes. He’s good, but quite irrelevant.
The Lover’s Decalogue
Thou shalt not raise thy voice against me, even if aggrieved or justified, neither shalt thou interpret nor assume pejoratively, for to be critical of thy lord, or to misprize or diminish him, is anathema and nehushtan.
Thou shalt not weep or moan or snore or fart in bed, for that is the prerogative of thy master.
Thou shalt not turn tenderloin to pemmican or jerky.
Remember what I say when I pontificate, to keep it wholly in mind.
Thou shalt tolerate my bad moods and honour my asymmetrical demands.
Thou shalt not bring up money issues to discomfit me.
Thou shalt not allow thy smile to become pinched and thy features to taper when thou art sulking or distressed.
Thou shalt not be cheeky but mild and forgiving, neither shalt thou put thyself forward to deliver ultimatums.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s ass, neither with a glance, nor in a dream nor by an errant thought, for it is wearing wool and linen in one garment, which is kilayim.
Thou shalt have no other lovers after me.
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