‘Summer Jobs’ by William Rivera

sc june 18

The stench is what you notice most
hatching turkeys in Kentucky.
The best unfold, become
the perfect bird. Some fail, eggs
bursting in their tray. Others lie twisted:
extra wings and feet, three, six, more.
Their necks must be broken, the foreman says;
it takes too long for them to die,
tossed into the chirping pit of goose-bump
feathered flesh, alive in death and dying,
better to lay their necks across a metal edge
and crack! Move on.
Hundreds everyday grown wrong.

At the café across the street they knew me right off,
pointed to the farthest table, empty in back.

Later, in Beloit, what did I know?
A kid from Bourbon Street, drinking at fourteen below
the legal age, I told the farmer I was ready to go —
sweet corn to me meant a field seen from an automobile.
But after one long Wisconsin row, arms against
the sharp leaves, my bare arms dripped with blood.

The farmer waited at the end of the row, frowning,
he too hadn’t realized I needed long sleeves for this.

In Eastern Carolina, fields of ripe big-leaf tobacco pride,
a white boy, champion gymnast,
out-paced by Negro women pickers,
who giggled at how slow he goes, him busy dreaming
how far it is up the rope to touch black-tar.

Ahh, education days, summers off and on
odd jobs, a boy could pay his way through college then,
no loans, hard work, reaching for flue-cured leaves
curled in autumn colors.
Then later,
walking 8-inch construction beams in New Orleans,
18-foot rebars bobbing on alternate shoulders.
I glance at the clouds too long, stuck in the sky.
My coworker sees and shouts, throw off the bars.

In the distance rods clank. I snail along the beam, still
holding on to that line of light in air.


Walking beams I leave behind,
turkeys peeping to be plucked,
sharp corn-cuts unkind, past events to make me …

who? Reaching toward tomorrow’s finishing line,
I reminisce. A dog’s sharp bark confirms I’m here,
a sere and subtle branch snaps under foot.

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