Anti-Wage-Slavery, Pro-Freedom Quotation 202
The Country Of Everyday
About the second day, the foreman told us
he wanted one corner of the site cleared.
So we started moving a huge pile of beams
blackened with dirt, that had been ripped down
when the building's interior was gutted.
Mark and I worked almost two hours
carrying the beams across the width of the site.
There is a terrible fatigue that begins in the body.
This is not the abrupt refusal of legs
that are new at the job to keep unloading lumber.
Nor when hands still soft suddenly uncurl
from around a board that can no longer be lifted.
This is a heaviness like a deep grief
a weariness that slowly works up from under the earth
passing through the soles of the boots into all the body.
This is Newson at the end of his shift
too tired to take off his plywood mill shoes:
falling asleep dressed on the bed, or in a chair
or with one boot off, the heavy leather of the other
dropping out of his hand onto the floor.
The beams were rough-edged, splintered. The foreman
has us move them back across the site a week later, when he wanted
the further corner. This time we stacked them properly:
a row of them, then two-by-fours crossways, then another row.
And out of the continual weight of the work, a stone
presses inside the body. It is like a piston
rising in the great cylinder of the rib-cage
squeezing the breath, so you gasp and strain for more air.
But when the air already in is compressed enough
A spark ignites, and a tiny flame
begins to burn in the brain like the pilot light of a stove.
This is the flame of hate, of the madness of labor.
This is why there is such rage when our checks are delayed.
Why we crash the metal scaffolding down as we disassemble it
Like a garbageman tossing empty cans back onto the driveway.
This is why some of us retreat into doing very intricate work:
Skilled finishing lace-like carpentry
A hand cupped carefully around the flame so that no one will see.
Mark and I moved the thick beams a day after that.
The foreman wanted the first corner again, so we piled them outside
at the rear in the lane
But the light always burns. It waits
for a new gust of fuel so it can roar into fire.
That is why one shrieks with the nail that bends as he drives it.
Why even the foreman tosses his hammer through a pane of glass
when the owner leaves the site after his daily tour.
That is why there is so much drunk.
But the flame singes the edge of the beer, and sometimes
the fluid ignites: fire burns along the surface
black smoke pouring into the brain. Fists
fly into faces, connect, the tables turn, and the cheap glasses
smash into chips and foam. The bouncers move into the centre of it
and then the door looms up, and outside
are all the indifferent faces of the street
After the rains began, Mark and I brought the soaked beams inside;
the foreman said he didn't want them to get any wetter.
Always the low flame. When it has burned long enough
the cavity where it flickers in the mind hardens.
Without saying a word, without a single electrical nerve
passing from the back of the brain down to the belly
every part of the body knows it is scum.
The knowledge is a wind that shakes the body, a wind
blowing continually like breath
brings the fire of oxygen to the furnaces of the cells.
You are scum. An object
owned by the company
like a crummy or a shovel. You are worse than that:
you are replaceable. You are not so necessary to the project
as paint. That is what the body knows.
And when the job ended, the owner thought
it would be useful to salvage the beams. Mark and I
spent an afternoon hauling them outside again
and carrying them down the lane to the other building.
We stacked each beam inside there.
This is the madness:
a young man crouches over like a child
his head between his knees, only breathing. The body
at last treated by you as any chalk-line or broom
so even off the job the body is driven like a car
whose payments you can't meet: use it
get your money's worth, run the fucking thing before
it is repossessed once more and taken away.