Friday, 12 March 2021 17:30

The Universe Can't Stop Laughing / A Fate He Couldn't Fix

Written by
in Poetry
The Universe Can't Stop Laughing / A Fate He Couldn't Fix

The Universe Can't Stop Laughing

by Fred Voss

We are the steel I-beam spines
of cities
the nails holding together the house where Mark Twain lay dying under Halley’s Comet
the pawnbroker
holding a dented trumpet he’s sure could have blown a note so strong
it made the sunrise brighter the polisher
of faucets full of cold water in a green-tinted train station bathroom dreaming
of his dead wife’s kiss the hand
gripping the trapeze bar 100 feet above a circus tent
dirt floor as a thousand people gasp below the fingers
of a mechanic full of lube grease that let the wheels
of a Volkswagen bus painted a hundred colors roll across the Golden Gate Bridge
during San Francisco’s summer of love
we are paintbrush
hair clippers channel-lock pliers 80-grade sandpaper
butcher’s scale table saw blade watchmaker eyeball streetcar conductor thumb
lion tamer sweat axle grease
on a cheek popcorn bag at a baseball game
chess piece in a park Hitler in a barber’s chair bolt thread
and blowtorch we are
shoemaker for mad King George chauffeur
for drunk Jim Morrison fingernail clipper for the stars stirrer
of paint eater
of fire
we raced locomotives across the American frontier like God told us to
ran out of gas halfway to Vegas
we are hubcap
and scalpel vaccine
and sword swallower toothpick factory
and birdwatcher
straitjacket and rocket launch stopwatch setter
and card casino royal flush chainsaw teeth sharpener
and nitroglycerine hugger atom splitter
and eclipse watcher
Death Row harmonica
and Wright Brothers glider Edgar Allen Poe orangutan
and Gypsy Rose Lee G-string front row ticket
to the end of the world and Albert Einstein’s
worst haircut as we stand in line
to punch a timeclock and the universe
can’t stop

A Fate He Couldn't Fix

by Fred Voss

The new maintenance man told us machinists he’d had cancer
and beat it
“I’m strong!”
he’d say
and square his shoulders and stick out his elbows and flex his chest muscles like a man
who could bench-press 300 pounds
and he’d climb into his SkyLift and jack it up toward the ceiling and replace burned-out
fluorescent tube light bulbs
30 feet above our heads
stick his 2-foot-long flashlight inside our machines and know
exactly which belt or pulley or gear to replace
and stock his storeroom with earplugs and plastic and leather gloves and rolls of duct tape
for us to use
and grin and give the thumbs-up sign to us all like he had the world
on a string
with his electrical tape and his Skill saw and his channel-lock pliers and his spray-can
of WD-40 lube oil
one day he started limping and walking slower and slower
and told us
his blood was having trouble circulating in his left leg
and he was afraid they might have to amputate his left foot
he was a Vietnam War veteran and an alcoholic and had diabetes
maybe he was mad that Trump was president
and a working man in America couldn’t make ends meet anymore
maybe he couldn’t pay his healthcare bill and his wages were so low he couldn’t keep his house
or his son had stopped speaking to him and his wife was leaving him
but he kept walking slower and slower until
one day we heard he was being fired
and he climbed into his Sky Lift and jacked it up toward the ceiling above our heads
and began to replace a few last fluorescent tube light bulbs
and we gathered round under him and stared up at him and tried to joke with him
about his bad toupee
like we always did
but instead of laughing with the joke
he stuck out his left arm and cocked an imaginary trigger
on an imaginary rifle
shifting and pointing the imaginary rifle down at each of us like he was rehearsing
a slaughter
there’s nothing much sadder
than a maintenance man with all the tools and the know-how in the world
who can’t fix
his own life.

Read 412 times Last modified on Friday, 19 March 2021 14:46
Fred Voss

Fred Voss, a machinist for 35 years, has had three collections of poetry published by Bloodaxe Books, and two by Culture Matters: The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, and Robots Have No Bones.