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Monday, September 04, 2006

Lower the Boom (a John MacKenzie poem)

Lower the Boom audiofile (5:09).

Today is Labour Day, and Lower the Boom (text below) is the closest thing to a Labour Day poem that I've ever written.

Lower the Boom

for Ivan Arsenault, killed in August 1998
on this framework of steel and rivets,
this erector set pushing into the sky

He stood here before the glass went on, stood
in and on the growing skeleton, grasping
I-beams in the heat of Ontario's August days
palms sweating in leather gloves guiding
I-beams to their appointed places, or else

he tied re-bar with those gloved hands, tied
arcane knots around slender rods
to be hidden in concrete,
to hold the whole damn thing together

This is some of what he did: woke every morning
at 4:30, ate cereal from boxes, drank
tea that steeped while he brushed teeth and shaved,
threw his lunch box in the passenger's seat,
tightened his boot laces and his belt,
mumbled morning talk with the others
in his Miscouche accent while settling
his hardhat on dark hair, thinking maybe
about a daughter starting school soon
maybe about the jays' game, or
more likely, being from Miscouche, wondering if
the Habs will ever find another goaltender like Dryden or Roy

This is what he did that day: woke at 4:30
ate his cereal, drank his tea
tightened his boot laces and belt and climbed
the naked steel under the climbing sun, all day
he clambered in the ring and clamour
welding this, riveting that, guiding
crane-swung bundles of steel to rest, and

most of the day he breathed
and worked, glowing like a beacon of sweat

and he argued about overtime and cursed bosses (whose wreath —
and the note saying they thought they should send it
— was thrown on the funeral-home lawn)

yeah, he worked and cursed the bosses' bidding
on jobs they couldn't start on time and rushed
to finish on schedule, under budget
he cursed old equipment and mistakes driven by hurry
and the sloppy minds of others, but ...

the beat of hammers and the view,
the pure music of storey rising on storey,
of seeing the metal become

he could hear, some days, the steel breathe
see it pulse and grow like
the child he felt move each morning under
his callused hand on Ruth's belly

He saw the sunset as he thumbed down another bundle
he saw the sunset and, at first, when the steel slammed into him
he thought it was beauty flattening him, he believed
the glorious shattered red and purple had
fallen from the sky into him and
he remembered his Catholic upbringing
and, suddenly, the meaning of epiphany, but

the others saw the scattered red as blood, the paramedics saw
the darkening glorious purple bruise he had become
and the doctor stripped off latex gloves, moved on


Zach said...

You cut the last line.

MackJohnny said...

Yes, I did. And about damn time, too. I should have cut it before it went in Sledgehammer, but I was too stubborn.

Humble Servant said...

What was the last line?

"Beauty flattening him" is what I remembered.

[Did you ever send it to his family?]

MackJohnny said...

it ended like this

"and the doctor stripped off latex gloves, moved on Ruth


It was not only in bad bad taste, but completely untrue as I found out later.

His family somehow heard about the poem before Sledgehammer was published and three of them, including his mother, came to the launch. I read the poem that evening. They said they were happy with it, and Ruth and the baby were just fine. The wreath part is also not true -- they didn't throw it, though they may have felt like it.

Humble Servant said...

Last line punctuation was not needed--poem stands just fine without it and more subtle.

Sounds like I should be feeding my muse on Dunkies, eh?

MackJohnny said...

Ayuh, more doughnuts for you.

Zach said...

I can appreciate why you'd cut the line, but I'm for keeping it, for what it's worth.

MackJohnny said...

Okay, Zach, I won't ask you to white it out in your copy.

Have you gotten Dave's book yet? What's with the Biblioasis distributor? As far as I know, The Reading Well doesn't have it yet. Supposed to call me when it comes in.

MackJohnny said...

Never mind. I called them. It's in. I'll get a copy tomorrow on the way to work.

Zach said...

Nope, I ain't got it yet. The Biblioasis distributor is Biblioasis.