Odd Jobs, by Jericho Brown

I spent what light Saturday sent sweating
And learned to cuss cutting grass for women
Kind enough to say they couldn’t tell the damned
Difference between their mowed lawns
And their vacuumed carpets just before
Handing over a five-dollar bill rolled tighter
Than a joint and asking me in to change
A few light bulbs. I called those women old
Because they wouldn’t move out of a chair
Without my help or walk without a hand
At the base of their backs. I called them
Old, and they must have been; they’re all dead
Now, dead and in the earth I once tended.
The loneliest people have the earth to love
And not one friend their own age—only
Mothers to baby them and big sisters to boss
Them around, women they want to please
And pray for the chance to say please to.
I don’t do that kind of work anymore. My job
Is to look at the childhood I hated and say
I once had something to do with my hands.

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Silt, by Stephen Burt

Things you know but can’t say,
the sort of things, or propositions
that build up week after week at the end of the day,

& have to be dredged
by the practical operators so that their grosser cargo
& barges & boxy schedules can stay.

The great shovels and beaks and the rolling gantries
of Long Beach, and of Elizabeth, New Jersey,
can keep their high and rigorous distinction
between on-time and late, between work and play.

“Since you excluded me, I will represent you,
not meanly but generously, with an attention
that is itself

a revenge, since it shows that I know you

better than you have ever known yourselves,

that if I could never have learned
how to be you, nor how to be
somebody you’d like to be very near, nevertheless

you could not do without me, or keep me away.”

Telling, by Elisabeth Frost

They keep telling me why I do what I do. I do it so that one day someone will do for me what I’m doing for her. They’re saying, then, that my motivation is to be, down the line, the recipient of the doing. According to their logic, I buy her the Times and irises for the bed table, renew the nitroglycerin and Cardia, throw in the chocolate that isn’t allowed, and, back home, scour the tub, scrub the toilet—I do these things in order to have them done for me, if not by her, who can’t do them (let’s be honest), then, second best, by someone else. They say that’s the reason I study so closely her happiness, her lack of happiness. And their gentleness in the telling, the lowered chin and eyes, the slow enunciation, the hand reaching toward my wrist—it all tells me that things won’t end where I think they will, that what I do isn’t like a mitral valve (thrust open, clamp shut), an act without volition, but is, like the refusal finally to turn away, something chosen, which may or may not do anything like what one hopes it will.