In the year between high school & city
college, I spent most nights writing
now-unlistenable folk songs and most days
wire-wheeling gunk off radiator tanks
in my father’s truck shop, where I knew men
who could each tell the funniest joke you ever heard
and a moment later say something he didn’t seem to
realize would make you want to cry for him
until all you had left were the words fuck that shit
and an aimless determination to grind
something down to brushed metal. Later, I would
spend a whole semester in a state school library
just to live an hour in the mind of Lacan,
but these men lived their entire lives in the span of a day.
Born every morning with grease in the ruts of their knuckles,
they diagnosed themselves with terminal illnesses
just after lunch, for which the only medications
were oxys, meth, beer, weed, and a pack of smokes.
And each evening, after quitting time, they must’ve gone
home and died. How else could they have stilled themselves
enough to fall into another morning? In winter especially,
when the bone-cold would slap us into the world, they became
men too quickly all over again. We punched our timecards. And,
in the few seconds it takes to cough up a yellow nickel of phlegm,
they went from looking ass-slapped in the arms of their blue
coveralls to pulling the chains on the roll-up doors.
By Erik Wilbur
Erik Wilbur teaches writing at Mohave Community College in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. He is also the program director of Real Toads Poetry Society, a literary organization that provides opportunities for residents of rural Arizona communities to learn about, experience, and share works of literary art. His work has recently appeared in The Southampton Review, New Ohio Review Online, and Aquifer. Also, his forthcoming chapbook, What I Can Do, won the 2020 Chestnut Review Chapbook Prize.