Anthony Walton

Third Shift

Mickey says hey
you guys, go throw
eleven, which means
for me and Knox
to unstack
and stack a hundred
hundred pound sacks
of corn starch
or dextrose or whatever
off a truck out of
St. Louis or Decatur
or Kansas City.
Midnight, and we
will be loading
and unloading until
dawn. Next it might
be barrels of animal
fat bound for Memphis
or sifted grain destined
for the breakfasts
of the middle west.
We don’t know
or care, we just
throw it, get out
of the way, and stand
on the dock taking deep
breaths and waving
the next guy in.
Then maybe it’s
break, Knox and me
on the roof, him smoking
and singing about some
woman or another
and making bad jokes
about misery loving
company. I smile,
and because he knows
it will make me laugh
he sings “Since I Fell
For You” off-key
and with the wrong
words, and I look out
over the highway
toward Iowa wondering
which headlights
are headed here.
Then I take a hit
and it’s time to go
back. It is always time
to go back. I am thinking
of a night when I was
younger and among the many
things I did not know
was that life could be
like this. I took Amtrak
out of South Bend
headed home to bury
a friend. In Chicago
the train stopped
behind a mill in Hegewisch
and I could see
a man sweating and stoking
a coke furnace.
It was late August, the sky
was going orange to pink
and it looked like he
was working the gates
of hell. I am learning
to think of these gates
as such, because it’s hotter
than hell, Mickey is cursing
the day he was born,
Knox is singing about
misery, which is its own
company, and two more
trucks are backing in, steady
as the gravity dragging
us into the ground.

Anthony Walton
Third Shift first appeared in Prairie Schooner, 67.1, 1993.