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Fred Voss: Three Poems

Fred Voss has had 3 collections of poetry published by Bloodaxe Books (U.K.), the latest of which, Hammers and Hearts of the Gods, was selected a Book of the Year 2009 by The Morning Star (U.K.) and is just published in a new reprint American edition by Pearl Editions (Long Beach CA)  available on Amazon. His first novel, Making America Strong, is also available on Amazon.

*****

Steel Communion

When I was 12 years old I put on my white shirt
each Sunday
and went to church and felt the body and blood of Christ in white wafer and red wine
on my tongue
now
at 63
I feel the skin of grimy steel blocks in my hands turning my fingerprints
black
as I drop the steel blocks into a vise and cut them on my milling machine
when I was 12 I was told all men were my brothers
in Christ
now
I look across this factory floor past rolling vertical gantry mill slick with oil
and 2-ton drop hammer I hear once crushed a man’s skull and see
Ruben from a holy mountain in Guatemala
on his tube bending machine bending steel
the same steel dust on our skin
the same drops of sweat glistening on our backs
and necks
as the time clock ticks
the same muscles
tightening in our fingers and arms and shoulders as we lift
steel
in our ragged torn T-shirts that will never see the inside
of a church
our church
in our hearts
our communion
in our smiles
as we buff and polish the steel we’ve cut and bent
we do not need to put on a white shirt and kneel before an altar
to feel holy
we do not need to pretend wafer and wine
are body and blood
we have the blood flowing in our veins
and pouring from our cut fingers
the muscles
rippling on our backs
the brotherhood
in our hearts real
as shiny steel.

***

Einstein Sticks Out His Tongue

A poem should be understood by a man
wrestling a roaring shaking jackhammer in his fists
a poem should turn like an axle
cut like a drill
be warm as the first ray of sun falling through a machine shop window onto the arm
of an engine lathe operator after a storm
sit on a table like the jaw
of a T-Rex
leap
into the air and wiggle like the marlin hanging above the sea and pointing its sword
toward the sun
a poem should sit in the palm of the hand like a flower
shine in the eyes and swing with the stride of any man or woman walking down any street
in the world
a poem should be clear
as the hooting of the owl during the total eclipse of the sun
common
as heartbeat necessary
as gravity a poem should roll
like a locomotive squirm
like Houdini the moment before the straightjacket falls
from his back a poem
is a can opener
a stick of dynamite
Van Gogh’s paintbrush dipped in yellow oil
it should gleam
like the sweat on the back of the man with his fists on the rake stirring the red-hot
molten steel in the foundry flow
like the blood of the soldier dodging machine gun bullets to keep us
free explode
like Krakatoa hang
in the air like Nureyev stick out its tongue
like Einstein laugh
like the world’s greatest pool hustler sinking a shot even he
thought impossible get
up off the canvas just before the referee counts 10 and put up its gloves
and throw another punch a poem
cannot be held in a musty book or captured in a university classroom a poem
is Chaplin’s cane Dempsey’s fist Cleopatra’s naked back it crawls with the snail roars
like the lion grows like the grass waits all-knowing like the dust on the windowsill falls
like the tear from the eye of the bride as she kisses the groom who’s just been given a new heart
by the doctor a poem
does not keep its hands clean a poem
is a steel cutter shoving a filthy 1-ton bar of 4130 steel into the mouth
of a white-hot blast furnace and laughing
because he’s still alive.

***

Hanging Onto Our Selves

We fill egg trays with 30 identical beryllium copper electrical connectors each
stack the trays
until they reach for the machine shop ceiling
we make hundreds
thousands hundreds of thousands of identical beryllium copper electrical connectors
until they come out our ears
and we dream them in midnight dreams and seem to eat them
for breakfast but we
are each so different Merlin
sleeps in his van he parks in the Home Depot parking lot all week
after driving from the high desert over the mountains 90 miles
to work
and sings opera
at his machine until he cries then smiles like some crazy clown saint doing a comical waltz
around his machine as his fingers cut to shreds by the sharp copper connectors drip
stinking cutting oil
Ishmael
keeps swordfish swords propped against his workbench by his toolbox with the pictures
of the thousand pound swordfish he once pulled from the sea
says the sea
is his woman and talks of how he wants to cruise her with a harpoon in his fist a swordfisherman
once again as soon as he can and we worry
Ishmael will cut off his fingers reaching for electrical connectors next to razor-sharp cutters
as his eyes glaze over
and beautiful swordfish leap from the sea as he hurls the harpoon
in his mind
those shiny red-brown beryllium copper electrical connectors stack
toward the factory ceiling
each identical to within thousandth-of-an-inch blueprint dimensions
as we
stare across our machines at each other and try to be as different
as we can
Carl
still furious at the 10 years he spent caged in prison for killing a man
with his bare hands on a downtown L.A. street corner staring
at the tin walls as his machine runs until his eyes fill with tears
that never fall
as he balls his fists up and turns those tears into punches
at the air
and me
a million miles away in my mind running as far as I can from the numbing boredom
of a million identical electrical connectors to seize
these poems out of thin air
and set myself free.
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