"I've Been Working on the Railroad"

A weekly poem, read by the author.
June 12 2007 6:52 AM

"I've Been Working on the Railroad"

Click here   to listen to Jeffrey Skinner read this poem.

I've always had trouble with the boss, even when I was self-employed.

Why do I have to sit there for eight hours when I can finish the day's

work in fifty-seven minutes? And there was a flaw on the face

of the office clock, a flyspeck or mole between five and six

where the eye went naturally, as if to the corner of an otherwise

impeccable woman's lips. I kissed that flaw in my mind, over and over,

because I had nothing else to do. The idea of work is fine, but

must we put every idea into practice? The trees, which I sometimes

catch waving to me, seem content in every weather, as if they

were continuously employed actors, and when the script calls for caress

the willow bends and draws its leaves delicately across the grass;

if violence, the oak twists and snaps, the palm leans back its heavy head

in the storm, frond-hair whipping madly. On the other hand, trees

are never permitted to leave the office. I have been working so long

I forget sometimes what job I'm doing, and instead of teaching

grab my students by the belt and collar and stack them floor to ceiling,

thinking I am back at my cement factory job. What's amazing

is how little they complain, and my evaluations come out nearly identical

to those times I actually teach something. Perhaps in the end all work

is equally forgotten, and the transmission of knowledge a long train crossing

Kansas at 3 a.m., a glowing tube full of dreaming passengers.

Jeffrey Skinner's latest collection of poems, Glaciology, will be published early this fall.

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