Mill Work – by George Perreault

three of us on the finishing line – Lenny
bumping up the hand trucks, sewing the ends
of the cloth together, feed it into the polisher,
let it pool for the shearer, then Milt inspecting
finished yards for flaws, call them out to me
keeping book, deducting eighths for this
or that, slicing each roll loose, sliding it
into a box to weigh, seal, stack for shipping

hours pass on the banks of the fabric river
unless a clank, a thud, something runs amuck,
whole line falls dead waiting for the mechanic
tinker it back to life – usually it’s the shearer,
the blades get out of whack, make chatter lines
down the cloth, have to sell it discount – Pudlow
leans in, checks the cut with cigarette papers held
close to the whir, muttering to himself, if it’ll

nip this clean, good to go, Milt saying big Polock
knows his shit but wound way too tight, some quiet
times he’s walking the lines, guy will toss a penny
into the vent shafts, hear it rattle-step along the tin,
us all watching sideways see his jump shudder –
poor sonofabitch, Milt tell us, he survived them
Nazis and now the company’s got his nuts

union shop, you get half-hour for lunch, glad
to sit a while, swap some history, some lies,
Milt unwrapping the wax paper, sighing, round
shoulders sag, baloney sandwich, every
stinking day, another baloney sandwich, so
once I offer, maybe have your wife make you
something bit different – the hell, he says,
man gotta make his own goddamn lunch

George Perreault has received awards from the Nevada Arts Council, the Washington Poets Association, the International Dancing Poetry Festival, the McCabe Poetry Prize, and the Fischer Prize in Poetry. He has served as a visiting writer in New Mexico, Montana, and Utah, and his work has been nominated both for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. Recent work appears in The American Journal of Poetry, Timberline Review, High Desert Journal, and Weber – The Contemporary West.

Photographer’s Note: With a vivid sense of time felt throughout this poem, the clock represents a short respite from the otherwise long, mundane hours spent on the finishing line. The baloney sandwich and waxed paper was used for obvious reasons. It also represents “a bunch of baloney” Milt feels he is forced to endure each and every monotonous day at work.