Home > Poetry > Chicago Scale
Published: Thu Jul 1 2004
Diego Isaias Hernández Méndez, Convertiendse en Characoteles / Sorcerers Changing into Their Animal Forms (detail), 2013, oil on canvas. Arte Maya Tz’utujil Collection.
Chicago Scale

Sun’s up thru the grate
in a forklift’s hood.
The Peer Foods job is done.
No slot for the engineer’s dime,
tanks lined with tile smooth

as the blue surf
of smoke blown over Gary.
Already 10,000 ham hocks
in the August pickle
& you’d never know

how long Big Jock spent
watching the kettle
from the truck. Knees gone.
None of these pigs care
about water poured

in mortar. About how
solutions wired into lies, sweat
& rage kick a job forward.
One job down, talk turns
to another town & the next slab.

Divots & buckles. Slopes
that drain to the walls.
Jock says the Pollacks he knows
could set a slab in three
hours, a baby’s butt, dry

packed & hard as granite.
Said ham & egg concrete crews
these days slop it in like runny
oatmeal & cut it level
like a cup of sugar in a trifle.

Peer Foods was fine for a hot job.
Mortar burned up on the table.
Ax head stuck black with tar.
No Tootsie Roll rats,
no Thompson Steel acid bath.
At Abbott Labs, told Duffy

I’m going to college. He said:
“You ain’t going to nobody’s college
and I’ll tell you why.” Said:
“See that wheelbarrow & those pallets?
With every load of brick
you bring over here, boy, you getting

dumber.” Still, this work beats
like something hard & red turned loose
in my shirt. Steel-toed
& scowl faced, strapped
with leather laces, maybe I am
getting dumber by the load,

but I know better
than to stand in the yard with hands
in my pockets. Almost as bad
as trying to work sitting down. & I know why
it’s not work til it hurts. Maybe I will,
maybe I won’t. But I can tell you four facts

right now. The sun’s up,
caught us in the yard. This blue
denim back’s already on fire.
It’s 44 hours to LA
& we’re half a day behind
a flatbed-load of brick headed west.

Ed Pavlic has written three books of poetry: Winners Have Yet to Be Announced (University of Georgia, 2008), Labors Lost Left Unfinished (Sheep Meadow, 2006), and Paraph of Bone & Other Kinds of Blue (APR, 2001), selected by Adrienne Rich for the APR/Honickman First Book Prize. (updated 7/2010)

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