Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ballad of the Subcontractor

Marlys West (2005)

During his senior year, Francis won every blue ribbon
Debate. Every debate, Francis? "Yes,
Yes, I won them
All," he answered with no false modesty and no true
Modesty, either. Our Francis argued the death penalty fifty

Times that year. He was like a star quarterback but
Smaller, brighter. Odd to think of it,
Now that the workers who deserted are finally
Caught, I mean. We threw them in the lift, debated
Knocking them around
A bit. Their manifold arguments

Will accentuate those you already
Have. The cranes broke loose, they said. Not likely.
They lost our papers, hammers, flew over the edge. Pneumatic
Drills advised them to do as they were told
In the old country. Francis like to open each debate with

A rhetorical question. "Imagine, for a minute," he would say,
"That you are on death row." Closing his eyes, Francis
Shivered. It was his best
Debate; he won both sides over,
And over. He'd bend and sway; clasp his hands. I can't
Recall his ever giving me a cigarette for my smoking

Pleasure. The electricians who cursed us were finally
Sorry. During my junior year, Francis led
The team to a championship and carried a gold-plated
Trophy home. His role
Complemented mine. I won nothing back
In the day. Francis took everything and then

Some. Judges met to welcome
A new champion who
Understood the industrial and ritual uses of
Metal. The industrial uses of steel as builing fabric, exoskeleton,
Are many, but the damage
Was done. Since then I've been altogether too
Busy, working overtime, really, to thank him, but events have borne out my
Fears and
Predictions. You break a strike, you pay for it
In spades, in the blocked road.
In spite

Of the many arguments
Offered by those in favor of unions, I have
No opinion. In one
Corner a pile of bricks, in another
A jacket of Copper. Spatial order, but also, chronological
In that the bricks came first and the
Copper went up last with wired bits of glass so
That the foam of the capitol illuminates

The sun-blocked day and night.
This is my part in the skyline
Renovation project, brought to
You by someone or other, those mugs, money
Swindlers, fat cats, pocket shimmers, someone, I would
Guess, like that windbag Francis.

1 comment:

dan1968 said...

from The Best American Poetry (2005)