The Ipe Tree

I’ve written more numbers on lumber this past week
than words into any story or poem.

I am a confused sort of man.

Walked up on where two paths diverge into the woods
and chose neither one. I’m losing skin from shins
and will be itching for weeks from high stepping
all the wild unwalked life-choked spaces in between.

Footsteps scar the earth. The earth grows thorns
and marks chalk on me. An alphabet of illegible lettering.
One over sixteen with two petite dashes tilted like military berets.

The word heavy.
The word slider.
And runner.

Rip it longways to five and a quarter and give it another run on the router.
Wipe glossy white wax on each end after you cut them. Born brown faces
squint into the sun off the pool they’re building. Burnt brown faces
have measuring tape like loaded handguns on their hips
clutching little notebooks and a teeth marked pens.

They’re poets too. In their way.

Calling grown men who don’t speak English too stupid to their face
and keep sawing blue stone tiles with circular saws and no masks on.
White dust and the smell of burnt glue fill the air.

Clouds. Clock out. And head on to the home place long before any of us.
Short. Long sleeved men. And knit polo tucked into crisp clean khaki foremen.

Trying to read my scratched black handwriting in this hard dark stubborn Ipe wood.
A man from Brazil told me it was from Brazil. “It is amazing to have such long boards,”
he said, “the Ipe tree, you see, it grows very crooked.” As he read a scrap of it
with more intention than anyone has ever looked at one of my poems.

UPS Guy

My phone went off loudly around five thirty in the morning. There’s no way for a phone to go off quietly that early. A gentle coffee warmed voice asked me if I was who I am, and asked if I was available to work that day. Foggy headed, half asleep, almost too tired to speak, I could not think of a good excuse. Yes ma’am, I said, and sealed my fate. I could expect a call from a driver within the next two hours. Shipping things for a living seems a precarious venture. It forces us to treat the mundane with a misplaced urgency.
You’re handing someone an impossible job.
Demanding they do hard work gently.

The United Parcel Service, UPS, hires what they call driver helpers, for the month of December. If you get called in for the orientation, you begin to glimpse what you’re in for etched in colorful posters advocating daily stretches. Stared into a television monitor watching all the wrong ways to lift heavy things. At least sixteen of us around the table. My manager told me maybe five worked a full day, and of those five, no one worked two. I was one of those. Not because of the work, but because of the structure. You would never know if you were needed until your phone rang sometime before six in the morning. It worked on a daily basis, you see, and so you did as well. There are particular rungs down at the base of the economic ladder where a day off is a sort of miniature death sentence. If I had an open Thursday to offer, I said yes. Even though I had no clue what I was saying yes to. Until my phone rang about an hour and a half later.
My driver was on route.

They had given us all a hat. A brown toboggan. But the driver would have the rest of my uniform. Because UPS delivery persons have special security clearances, that let them enter airports, schools, and businesses. Each of their shirts and pants and issued hats has a long tracking number associated to it, and they use it. You’re probably not going to find old UPS uniforms in Goodwill or any other consignment shop. Which also makes the dull brown a sort of symbolic color for the company. UPS has strong suggestions for how an employee should represent their self when wearing this uniform. Like the military. There is no casual piece of company clothing. Branding control. Marketing cohesion. Which trickles down to guys like me, putting on my tremendously oversized milk chocolate colored coat and pants in an Exxon bathroom, where I was asked to leave my car parked for the entire day, a potentially twelve plus hour shift. I hopped up into the cab with a guy named Jeff, and we took off exchanging introductions. All my options and freedom of movement and control sitting locked and turned off totally abandoned in a cramped gas station parking lot.

It is also important to note, I’m working and living in an area that I am entirely unfamiliar with. Having only moved to Upstate New York that November, working now for UPS in December. The man actually gave me one of their GPS and shipping information handheld tracking devices, like I had any idea what to do with the fragmented five digit house numbers and road names that may as well have been in a different country. Jeff took it back when he saw me looking up addresses on my phone. He understood. Accordingly, he had quit this job just the week before. Jeff had come down with the flu, and was forced to call in sick to his active, high energetic and technically demanding job, and his supervisor told him no. So he quit. ‘Supe’ called him back four days later, five days into December, and with no apology, simply offered him a shift. The one we were both part of at this very point in the story. He has three kids, loves to snowmobile, is good at his job, started like me as a driver helper, took that position to something basic in the warehouse, and in just a short time, they had him driving his own truck around his own hometown. He loved it. And several people on his route loved him.

Waves, conversations, playful jokes about someone’s yappy dog, bigger more dangerous animal owners came out smiling and waving and clearly knowing. One young military wife came outside with a Christmas card after I had just dropped a package off on her front stoop, with ten dollars inside, for Jeff, or as he demanded, the both of us. And he gave me a five. I learned more about the area I had moved to in those high up violently shaken and crazy chaotic scanning barcodes and staring down mailboxes than the entire month before. I learned more about reading addresses and following road signs instead of verbal commands and diagrams and actively oriented maps on my phone. I scanned the horizon for highway signs and little flat green strips hosting street names. House numbers, how they hop across the street, very rarely move along sensibly linearly.

Cat piss covered front porches and wide open mudroom doors and setting down Amazon packages in front of houses I could not fathom anyone actually lived in. Though they did. Dogs tied up in rough outside conditions. Jeff throwing his hands one over the other sliding back and forth, dangerously smiling wildly and bouncing up from his seat, as we skated left and right across a mile long, frozen sheet of ice someone calls a driveway. UPS trucks are only two wheel drive. At least most of the trucks were, Jeff attested. Made it all that much more fun to slip around in. I detested it, as I smiled politely, and gripped the base of my bucket seat, as a friend of mine would say, hard enough to pinch the vinyl.

I live for days like this, challenges like these, but that does not mean I do not get tired. Psychically, physically, empathically exhausted. I do. And that started around five thirty in the evening, twelve hours now from when my phone first started ringing. Glancing into the back of the truck, it still looked brimming with odd sized gift boxes and brown cubes and dented rectangles one big plastic eye wrapped around paperwork stared back at me. A monster in the middle, something flat and massive, a baby crib I guessed, but never said out loud. I made the rookie mistake of casually asking what we do with the packages still in the truck at the end of our shift.

Something happens to people when they work in ridiculously difficult conditions so long they get numb to them. When someone new comes through and experiences it, they can’t help but feel a twinge of resentment. Of reminder, that oh yes, what I am doing is hard, in some ways, demeaning, and in one clear instance, humbling. They see it anew in the eyes of the trainee. And the trainee, feels for the first time the same fear and exhaustion this tried and tested worker put down and submitted to a long time ago

Corporate, as Jeff called it, never communicated to a driver directly. Always through this supervisor, who was out to get him, to hear him tell it. He had for a long time suspected, but never knew to what level they truly tracked his time and movement on the job, until he was seated in his supervisor’s office, three sheets of paper on the desk in front of him, all cataloging and detailing a five minute pit stop he had taken. Not during his recorded lunch stop, which was entered into the device. He had pulled off the road at a gas station to grab a Mountain Dew. It was five minutes as the record showed. And he was told to not let it happen again, or he might be better suited to the warehouse.

Three kids. Loves to snowmobile. Appreciates he gets to raise them in his own hometown.
Defending five minutes.

Needless to say, there is no option to end the shift until the truck is empty, he told me. He had it take him over fourteen hours in a single shift, in the past. So I asked, what if I needed to leave early, could I even be dropped off at my car, just asking out of curiosity, of course. We were over forty five minutes from there. Jeff said he would gladly take me back, but I’d be setting him back just about two hours in recovery and driving time. I told him of course not. I did my breathing exercise. I also sometimes force myself to smile. I made a joke at my expense. Caught a glimpse of myself reflected in the dingy window. Hey, I see you. UPS guy.
Who else could do what you do?

Meet a stranger out in the world, change into a strange uniform in a bathroom, hop into a truck and head off into the never less known. I wasn’t home until after ten that evening, making it a nice clean twelve hour shift. I got a check for a hundred dollars, after taxes. And I got to be a UPS delivery guy for a day.

And on top of that. They let me keep the hat.

Dry Hill – new poetry book – INTRO

Don’t read these words like you actually know me. No. Pretend I’m a stranger. Make believe these are pages you found bound together on the street. Please. I am lowkey begging you. Give me that grace. I’m asking for it, even though I know it can’t be given. An impossibility. Grace just is. By no work or deed of your own. The hated are loved. The weight of full hearts breaks others.

I just want to write my way from beginning to end, birth to death. Things I can own and those stubbed toes and stumbled steps I might in the long run rather omit. I am going to write it down. For myself. For you. Though I recognize you didn’t ask me to do it. For my son. For Ashley. For the kids two thousand years from now, for when they fight through the fray. When they ask, I don’t need to articulate what. Just, when they ask.

Is why I write.

 

 

It isn’t always hammer time.

Having an opinion, and being invested in an outcome, are different. The people who study guns, the gun perspective I trust, is not someone who supports, or promotes, or defends owning a gun. No one can trust the opinion of anyone who participates in those endeavors when it comes to the use, regulation and education surrounding firearms. I’m sorry, but your desire to have a thing you like actually means you are biased, and far less likely to consider all sides of an issue.

Guns are tools, like hammers and nails. I don’t care if you worship them. If I see them in your hands, I’m going to ask you what you’re building. And if you’re not building anything worthwhile to anyone, you should not have a hammer, or nails.

If you’re not building, or fixing, you’re just scared, and you looked around the room for the most powerful form of defense, and holding it, and having it, puts you at peace, assuages your fear, and let’s you sleep at night, that’s okay. But I will not trust your opinion about your own security blanket.

I’ll take the opinions of carpenters. And anyone who talks about a gun for what it is, a tool. And a tool is inexorably linked to purpose. And without purpose, some tools are inappropriate for some environments. Because of the potential of collateral damage these tools introduce.

Not only is this an acceptable conversation, but it’s one we have about every other tool in existence. So the question is, what is a gun to you? A tool for hunting, for security, a form of entertainment? All of those are totally and completely acceptable to me. No one who implements this tool for these purposes desires it to be in the hands of individuals who would harm children, unsuspecting people going to church or at restaurants or concerts.

You can love guns, and not throw your hands up to this heavy, necessary conversation.
However, your loving guns should in no way inhibit, or direct, or alter it.
All it does is taint, and even nullify your opinions and observations on the subject.

Hammers, knives, power tools, saws, explosives, cars. All only appropriate in certain environments, and even then, with restrictions, required education, licensing, and often with warning labels printed directly on them.

Thank God for people who look at objects passionlessly.

Someone is spending a lot of time and money to make us argue
whether or not firearms solidly belong in this sort of grouping.
With everything else.
That explodes.
And rapidly projects metal up to a mile or more.
At deadly speed.

If your opinion isn’t that this sort of technology necessitates restriction,
that’s not an opinion.

That’s bias.

Five Fingered Hand

Renaissance Man.
Je ne sais pas qui je suis. J’aimerais essayer
a thousand things to see if one will stick.
Did men lack basic self esteem during the renaissance?
Were they unwarrantedly narcissistic and bold?
Did they also only tell forward thinking lies.
I only lie the word yes so I can make it a lie a little less.
By having done it.

Renaissance man.

Another way to say yes sir or yes ma’am.
Someone who forewent dabbling.
Who plies the word yes for a living.
Even though the correct word is no.

Jack of all trades.
A layman unencumbered.
Means my days are numbered.
One through seven stuck on repeat.
I’m up on my feet. About the same time as the sun.
Every morning. Clouds be damned. Rain be warned.

There’s still one five fingered hand
a well rounded worker
a renaissance man
left to the specialized world.

Self Belief – Soul Knowledge

Ego is tricky business. But don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s an accident. It isn’t. Nothing in existence is. Ego especially. Self-belief. Confidence. Soul and body dance. Energy that is timeless, moving in a biomechanical cocoon that will inevitably break open too soon. And ego. Just might be the only shape the energy that is you knows to take. Self-belief. Soul-knowledge. An overabundance of spiritual confidence. Walking on coals. Stepping into the unknown. Ego allows you to break the thick mold of ceaseless self preservation. The little liar in your heart who tells you you’ll be fine. Go ahead and take off on an adventure. No one has landed one before. But then again, there has never been anyone quite like you.

It’s like the cape on a superhero’s back. It’s like their tight little red underwear. It’s like the only shield police officers carry are badges. Symbols. Ego was the only thing the Wizard of Oz had to offer the last four pilgrims to his temple.

Whatever it takes to get you to fake just enough confidence to put a foot through the door.

And more, eyes open, head forward, take on a world of villains who by all means are probably shaping their identity purely in unveiled attempts to antagonize yours.
You can’t adopt it all the time, and you definitely dare not abandon it either. Ego.
Being functionally egotistical. It’s like a raincoat. Just enough to persuade you to step out into the rain. But if you wear that raincoat all day, you can bet on sweat. You might have been better off without a coat at all. But you’re egotistical. Your belief in yourself is astounding. The whole wide world full with starving people. Every day they get a little thinner. And you. To them.
Look just like chicken dinner.

Ego should be light as feathers. Subtle as spurs. The spark of orange fire in the eye.
Everyone wants you for the worst of reasons. But that doesn’t exempt you from being.
Ego has every reason to stay quiet, sleep in. Stay hidden. But it doesn’t. No.
Ego wakes up and crows.
People say good morning.

Ego says I know.

You’re welcome.

Of Theologians and Farmers Alike

My God is the heart of the universe.
My God radiates gravity like it was light.
It started to hold the whole lot of us together
as soon as It figured out how to let us go.

We are held in mighty arms, like infants,
by a God that can not stoop to know us.

We are related.
But we are not of a kind. You see.
We do not belong in the house. Not yet.

We are like a supernatural child’s pet.
Arguing against Its parents
for our existence
since the very beginning.

We are God’s garden.
Its favorite pet project.
We enter the house at dinner time.

And are kept
in a kennel
in the backyard.

See.
Daddy didn’t want to get a dog.

My God
is a mom
who got one
anyway.

A Crimson that Lasts Forever

They leave metal edges on the insides of lawn mower engines sharp.
Pull cord broke. Spool fell out tucked under Honda’s little black-painted hood,
and a whole coil of flat tense sharp and hard came undone.
It was rewrapping this infuriatingly functional component,
rewinding that winding coil up tight and small,
when an as sharp as a kitchen blade metal dove deep into the white cartilage
of my middle finger knuckle. Held that arm up above my head, to God,
to balance, to the stonewall all the tools were not neatly strewn out on.
Waiting like a child for discomfort to pass, for some parent
to sweep down like a miracle and make a distraction.
Four hours in on an eight hour work day,
and that hand must keep going, gripping,
pulling handled cords and squeezing plastic gas mixture powered triggers,
arriving home to a large-udder goat, counting on the milking
she’s been getting each afternoon, and soon, rather than later,
one handed the impatient beast, took twice as long, more time gone,
and a yard still full of soft stalk moss-dotted grass needed to be worked on,
and, about fifteen dibby birds too young to know to put their value up at night.
Never seen a raccoon’s leftovers of her majesty plucked alive, eaten raw,
from the crown to scaly yellow legs and red, white down scattered all over.
A little Rhode Island Red beat her wings just the right way.
Scratched her twiggy claws and must have flipped that whole slice
of wrinkled skin on my knuckle back, because every other bird
I touched that night has blood on its feathers.

In a few weeks though, each one will receive her opportunity
to repay the favor. To show their truest color.
And we will have stained one another
with a crimson that lasts forever.