I was there at lunch when they hired Bill
an old man with clothes too big
holding his hat by the brim
in timid hands a sign of respect
belonging to an era long lost.
He went straight to the foreman
eyes bright and proud and
in a soft spoken voice that wavered
he said "My boy come in here to work
doing odd jobs here and there,
and quit after one day. He say
the work was hard, dirty and no man
should be needing to do that kind of work."
Our foreman looked distant
trying to form a polite reply
but the old man continued
"What I was wanting to know
then, was if that job then
is still available?"
Bill worked the broom a soft swish—
swish kicking up oil and dirt in
neat even piles with ripped greasy gloves
that he’d splurge on every other paycheck
to protect his raw arthritic fingers.
Sometimes during assembly we’d
make a mess spilling oil across the floor
and with our young important hands
would dump ’Sta‑Dri’ in wasteful
clumps to keep the oil off the bottom
of our shoes and Bill would come running
muttering in an intelligible murmur.
His thin hair frenzied gray tufts
poking out from his ears his nose
and chin stubbled and flecked with
bits of metal paint and dirt.
With his coffee can of ’Sta-Dry’
flicking with gnarled hands
admonishing something like "y’gotta
feed like chickens boy, like y’feed chickens "
He was a 65 year old errand boy
carting scrap metal in bins
wheeling out to the dumpster or
dollying about his oil drums
full of that day’s waste for minimum an hour.
I was still there the winter years later
when times got rough and they hit us
with the layoffs. Bill was one
of the first to go
seems the people who need always
end up needing. And there’s that
unspoken camaraderie and friendship
that we lose hunched over our work
having families of our own to fear for.
But we all felt the emptiness
when we lost the luxury of Bill.
Poem for woman hanging wash
There’s a stray of hair whipped free
by the wind
plays inattentive across your cheek
as your hands dance supple against
the calico and hemp
arranging with operative precision
like the sun gleam
against your alabaster cheek
golden in your eyes shining
With deliberate passion your hands
clip the multi‑colored cloth waving
like a message from a waning ship
as if you could just reach out and pluck
it from the waves like child’s play
You reach back tying the strands
back wrapping the errant pieces into a
careful knot tight each
belonging in its place
like ships sailing
flagging their unanswered calls
wanting and just out of reach.
—Khristian E. Kay, Oconomowoc, WI