Learning to ride, falling down, getting back on
Subscribe and Save up to 45%
The summer after my mom died,
I returned home from college
to that empty house in Nowhere, Iowa,
its bleached-white ceilings and sagging
clothesline just a few rap songs
from the refrigerator factory
where I spent all day getting bitten
by mosquitoes who exhibited
a special fondness for my place
on the line, thanks to the drains
and leaky hoses by my feet.
We were warned not to complain —
plenty more temps they could call.
Warned, too, to avoid the break room
with its jailhouse camera
swiveling right outside the boss’s office,
his speakers playing only country.
I remember old men missing fingers,
a forklift operator drunk by noon,
the groan and clatter of pallets
stacked high enough to strum the nerves.
Guys who gave bad instructions
just so you’d have to redo everything
while they flexed and laughed
like high-school kids who will
never grow older, never need to learn
about the price of caskets.
But most of all I remember
the elation of those final moments
when it no longer mattered if I missed
my quota, if I turned the water hose
on my coworkers, then sauntered off
when the boss descended from on high
and demanded the name of the culprit,
his pen drawn like a dagger,
even the full-timers scattering.