Degrees of Motion
In the month between long-awaited graduation ceremony
and arrival of the parchment reading, BA, Summa Cum Laude,
Economics, he resigns himself to keeping his three part-time
jobs, all distantly related to his major. Repeating Welcome
to Walmart? How do you want that cooked? Tickets Please.
as if studying for a quiz.
His professor retrains as a checkout clerk, eventually learns
the routine of his relationship between customer and conveyor
belt is, when executed with laser-precision, meditative.
Do you have a card?[beep] Did you bring your own bags? [beep]
Any coupons? [beep] Cans go on the bottom, [beep]
eggs and breads on top.
Catalogue orders stop coming in, overnight. Blueprints
for the hospital expansion rest curled on the drafting table,
unread. The diner sits empty, construction workers home.
Managers drop off suits at the dry cleaners they can’t afford
to pick up. Door chimes, announcing entering shoppers, signal
another someone coming in to ask for a job.
Collectively, we grip our steering wheels as our tires skid down
pavement, grind to a halt. Sit quietly, waiting for the light to turn
green, the flag to wave, calculating the time it will take us
to accelerate zero-to-sixty, save money for a class, rewrite
our resumes, finish our Masters, change our position from
policewoman to nurse, stock broker to soldier, mechanic
to accountant. Counting the miles we’ll need to cover to reach
our new destination, in singles, one day, one step, one dollar,
one bill, at a time.
His New Job Site
Without enough work to go around he’s left
to tend the house during the day, forcing
his wife to take on more hours at her job.
Married twenty years, he rises before her,
puts on the coffee, walks their dogs, kisses her
goodbye, goes to work cleaning their house.
He runs a tight ship. He picks their daughter up
from high school at 2:45. Drops her at her job.
Dinner is prepared at four and on the table
by five. Laundry is finished in assembly line
fashion. The baskets light in his muscled arms
compared to the pipe wrenches he’s used
to lifting off his truck and carrying up flights
of stairs on his old job sites. There’s no room
for log jams in his schedule. He’s always
on the look out for risks; stray toys, wet floors,
the small details she’d leave unattended, he addresses
knowing the cost of OSHA reprisal. Every day,
he oversees the men with jobs as they arrive.
The ones bringing mail, oil, and gas. The meter
man measures wattage. The cable repair man shows
up to fix a broken connection. The garbage men
stop by weekly, like clockwork. Every visit
reminds him of the bills needing to be paid
and what he’s not doing to pay them.
—Elizabeth Cleary, Hamden, CT