‘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.

Envoi

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.

Four Poems by William Rivera

soft cartel may 2018

New Orleans Memoir

Slaves, whores, convicts, the British sent
to populate what was then a swamp.

My Scottish immigrant family grew rich
on liquor sales, bought the 14-room double camelback
house where I grew up. The Robert E. Lee Circle
around the corner–-magnificent, politics
tainted, an icon, dismantled. A kid, I knew little then.

Walking through the “colored” section on my way to school,
I see the dark women, eluding ‘the evil eye,’ scrubbing
their front steps till the wood turns white. Marie Laveau
dances voudou on the shores of Lake Pontchartrain.

Whitey, I wake in “black” bars,
safely left to sleep until it dawns on me
I’m late for school.

Bring Your Own Chair

It was hard, the 1930s, failing on a roll of dice.
And he borrowed without asking to
her mother’s new radio, lost on a pony. “Send him back!”
her mother commanded. Summer days went shiver.

Rubbing holes in their clothes,
in alleyways, stray bedrooms. Her a poet,
third generation Scots. Him, Latin, illegal,
a gambler’s charm. Both late teens. I imagine their desire.

their arms reaching…hugging,
each sitting half on a single borrowed chair—no fixed seats
back than at the talking pictures.
That night

I feel their rush toward the exit,
spurred by the opened doors, their quick steps
past posters, the ticket-taker booth, their breath in their hands.
Images made flesh.

A Walk Down Calliope Street

For Marmee (1898?-1965)

Some say Calliōpe, like hope.
Others, Ca-li-o-pē. An eye-sore now,
a trash heap under a twin cantilever bridge.

I blink against the dust and watch
what now connects Algerines to New Orleans.
Gone the persimmon tree, the double camelback house.
The place, the people – I couldn’t wait to escape.

Calliope:

the name, her story come and gone. Once in mythology
I read she gathered stars for her love-god, Ares.
When he possessed all her stars, he locked her up
in a golden cage, used her stars for war.
When freed from seizure, she replenished the heavens,
conceived the stars to shine, if not to touch.

Poems seldom resolve the issues they pose.
I clearly can’t go home again. The block’s not even there.
Just the smell of pee, invisibles, and me
back where I started, itching to be off.

The Source of Movable Reality

On a crowded St. Charles Streetcar, a colored woman
squeezed next to where my grandmother and I sat
in front of a sign that read, “No colored in front of this sign.”

My grandmother glanced at me. “Don’t you
see that lady standing there.” I stood. Hesitant, tired
of oppressive rules and heavy groceries, she sat down.

The ticket collector spoke to her, “Don’t you see
that sign in back of you?” She readied herself to stand,
when my grandmother reached back, lifted the sign,

placed it in front of her. I watched in her grasp
a movable reality take place, hearing her ask,
“Now, are you going to move me young man?!”

William Rivera is the author of four collections of poems: Café Select
(Poet’s Choice Publisher, 2016); Noise (Broadkill River Press, December
2015): The Living Clock (Finishing Line Press, 2013); and Buried in
the Mind’s Backyard (Brickhouse Books, Inc. 2011). Born in New
Orleans, he has traveled and published widely. Currently retired, he
taught agricultural extension and development at the University of
Maryland from 1981-2009.

Rivera’s poems have been published in various poetry magazines:
Innisfree, Broadkill River Review, Raven’s Perch, The Broome Review,
California Quarterly, Gargoyle, Recursive Angel, The Curator Magazine,
Third Wednesday, Ghazal. Lit Undressed, Blazevox, 2River Review, Loch
Raven, and others.