Winter 2008

Table of Contents - Vol. IV, No. 4


Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

Eric Knapp


Fulton, NY

On the outskirts of a river town,
I thought the world all over smelled
of chocolate, malt, and cow.

The men I knew worked hot,
talked little,
and walked with spare economy.
Their clothing rarely varied:
twill pants and cotton shirts,
white, at close of day,
with remnants of a pungent, honest sweat.
Smoke of dirty hand-rolleds wisping,
in eerie echo of their lanky bodies
and fluid motions.

The dairymen, in dirty boots
dragged odors from the farm
into the streets
as they brought their hard-won contributions
to the Nestle magic.
Some made embarrassed moves to shake
the fragrant barn-mud loose
before they counted out their grubby change to buy
the output of the brewery
they took home
to drink at shabby kitchen tables
too tired
to really enjoy.

Younger men from the Miller plant
laughed at them with jokes half-whispered,
though older ones no longer bothered:
a nod in recognition of the fact
that they, too, knew
what tired really felt like.
They stood
in awkward silence
and shuffled forward
keeping place in line
at close of one more shift.
I tried,
but couldn't see the signs
among their wrinkled faces
that they could tell:
these were the good times.
The Miller plant closed first
and left a hulking, empty building
and scattered bushes here and there
to hide the wells
that tracked the spread
of toxins' flow
toward the city's water.
Old men, at last,
received permission to take rest
they couldn't admit they'd longed for.
They kissed their wives
and found comfortable chairs,
and quietly drew their last breaths
of chocolate air.
The young rattled discordantly,
impotently about;
Union pay,
and two cases a week,
are hard to lose.
But beating each other senseless
in the streets, outside of bars
won't dissipate the rage.

Nestle died more slowly,
failing organ of an older time.
False hope each time they made the cut,
kept several hanging in beyond all chance
of moving on;
The first to go, had chance,
at least,
for lesser jobs
in modern plants
caring for machines that did the work of fifty
in their prime.

The final whistle blew
and hung on empty air
and passed,
and left behind an acrid tang
of hopeless men,
and unwashed kids,
and spoiled milk.
The banks don't need, or want,
a herd of cows
or pasteurizers
with no market for their product;
They let the old barns sag
from want
and emptiness within
just like the men
who used to keep them.

When I grew old enough
to begin to learn a man's work
my father took me 'round to them -
these men -
they looked me in the eye
and weighed me
took my hand in theirs -
so large, and rough, and capable -
with no apology made for the dirt beneath their nails.
It hurts me now to see them
look down at their feet
when they walk by
and trail their shame
(there is a smell much worse than cow)
with hands kept in their pockets
for want of work.
They know I'll leave - I must -
and they will stay
for if the place they brought to life
has no more use for them
what other place would have them?
But in the faded fabric of my clothes
I bring with me
the whisper of a memory of men
that will not wash away.


© Eric Knapp



Poetry    Interview    Translations    Fiction    Book Reviews

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