Working Riff

They called country singer Merle Haggard ‘a working man’s poet.;’ Johnny Paycheck intoned “Take This Job and Shove It;” female legend Dolly Parton sang poetically about the angst of “Working Nine to Five,” and Rihanna has a song in which she intones: work, work, work… When you’ve had a Hard Day’s Night in the Five O’Clock World, what’s your go to poem, song, or mantra? When you’ve had a day filled with too much perspiration and not enough inspiration or appreciation, does Dickinson’s poem ‘it’s easy to work when the soul is at play’ sooth your soul or does sassy Dorothy Parker’s ‘daily dawns another day, I must up to make my way…winter, summer, spring, and fall—I’m a fool to rise at all’ trip your trigger?

When I began my career, a snippet of the poem Dolor by Theodore Roethke gave me a perverse satisfaction on some red letter days. He wrote: ‘I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils…the misery of manilla folders and mucilage…the ritual of multigraph, paperclip, comma, endless duplication of lives and objects.’ If you have a job you love, you’re fortunate. I’ve loved every job where my primary task was to write (proposals, white papers, letters, training manuals, or specs as well as roasts, greeting cards, and travelogues). Included below are some early poems I wrote commuting, composing, commiserating, or while on hurried business trips, or when feeling peekish about a project or coworker. In plenty of time for VD, next set of poems are from my Chapbook Here We Go Gathering Mush in May.

A Sap’s Fable

(written while carpooling, listening to James Taylor’s Traffic Jam
Six forty am
Dusty with sleep
Purposely not
Choked with fumes
Never noticing—
Unvarying dreariness
Placid gray, asphalt deities
Along bright, brickless roads.
 
Five oh five pm
Effectual end
Turtle head sunken in
Once upon a six forty again.


Write Time
Black coffee to compose
Green tea to edit
Red wine to relax
Whiskey to reread
 
Blue pen inspires
Green pen creates
Red pen assists revisions
Black pens sign checks
 
Pre dawn for composing
Late morning for editing
Twilight for unwinding
All intertwined in writer honing.


Corner Table, With View
(Nathan’s, Georgetown DC)
Picture this:
Weather fearful, lacking mirth—ran into a friend from work
 
Sitting there, fog at bay,
Each of us: disengaged, unassuaged;
Being women, at mercy of—
Them.
 
Drinking wine, sipping some
Nuances we read, nurturing, holding back
Asking, reaching—gift or curse to each?
Them? 
 
Rain is lifting, check is split
Someone’s waiting, fog’s still thick
Sitting there, fog at bay
Unassuaged, disengaged.
We and them.


Dismembering
(Written upon leaving a company that demanded too much too often)
The moth . . .
                                                 
      . . . lost its wings
 
            As the fall found its voice
            . . . and coloring;
 
                 Shook with the joy
                 . . . of dismembering.
 
Watcher: Amish Country, PA
 
White gulls, land lost, near a calm, clear, cool pond—
Stop and watch, observing all.
Ducks squawk, gulls screech, confused perhaps—
By lack of beach.
 
The sun slips nearer the white gull heads,
Ducks dive to the cool ponds depth,
And I become watcher of them.

 
All may feed, all share sun and scenery—
Yet only the white gulls know
Freedom to soar does not belong
So near a calm, clear, cool pond.
 
After a while, the gulls moved on.


Rue Lament
(written while working a 2nd job at a café to pay off a car)
Diligent day exposes the rents,
Crude bricks and rude cement
Paving the street of Rue Lament.
Dinghy shop fronts, bruised, battered cans,
Seven faded signposts—dutifully stand;
The street waits.
 
Nefarious night, jaundiced jazz
Drifts foggily from Café Lagrande;
Mingling a malodorous allure
     of decadent smoke.
As a bellows blows, it slinkily floats
Onto the street, seeking sweet sheep
Those—shy, innocuous passers-by.
 
Listen—for a susurrating sigh
Issuing along the siroccos street
Echoing under the bold, bright glow
Of a single lamp post light.
In the dark along the street
It’s the sole source guide
For all unwary passers-by;
Separating the smoke
Intoning—
Where there is lament
There also dwells hope.


A Denver Poem (after pulling an all nighter)
Mists converge as I descend—billowy bison
Morningly mountains unite, arrange clothes
Beyond this grown up prairie town
As old men might—survivors of wars, wives, gun fights.
 
All is well traveler—this
An opportunity to resist—an average day;
Steal a peek at regalness, native grace
Much to do; the soul of this old town awaits.
 
Stop for drinks, food, fuel, a map
An aimless stroll, destination up—into foothills,
Toasted, lost, the headstone clear—
Some Buffalo Bill died here.
Sprucing up in this evergreen air,
A mountain gift—to be green–pine fresh.
 
Here I am—business through. Where are you?
My desire—cabin and a blazing hearth
A wilder west, promises . . .
Of what could be, amid this landscape
Grand, but going—the way the bison mist is flowing.
 
Dance recklessly along worn paths
Amid foot hill graves, looply buzzed—up 48 hours
Tomorrow—return, account, remit
Air miles, three meals, no doze pills,
Rental car, dry cleaning bill.
 
I have what I want . . . almost.
I have everything I need;
I can cross Denver
from my list
Nothing happened here, something once did.

 
c Jo Hannigan, all rights reserved