A Proud Tradition

Assembly-line hands feed hungry machinery
to a jackhammer cadence,
leaden feet braking antiquated pedals
through hard-grained hide,

while she sobs

amidst the multidinous rattle of reverberating metal clangs,
hidden behind dank puddles
of sudsy yellow water
alone, uncalloused
hand deeply cut

bleeds ankle-deep mud,
spills over shallow ditches, rice paddies,
square plots of green stems submerged under palm fronds
by the river where a young girl dunks
her infant brother, a baby Achilles
instead of herself

into passing currents like weekly wash beaten
against gray rock

thin arms that pummel unmercifully-
easy strokes,
slightly hitched
otherwise perfect arc

frightened skin, fragile
tissue, a blurred cobra
lashing, lashing,
and she cowers, small
ostrich bent awkwardly
gripping a snapped
brass handle

her little girl
an awful yelp

long after
the final mechanical thuck,
coiled steel unwound
pulling the lever
of the timeclock

ubiquitous, gray
on the last numbered
employee card
eleven years later

across Pulaski Avenue
where we wait, kneeling,
fingers grabbing our earlobes,
elbows up
arm-weary but unbruised
way past midnight

and sweet dreams
of pig's feet
and boiled taro roots
leftover from
an uneaten lunch.