Wednesday Poem

In Manufacturing

If one of us, because his wife had left,
Pulled a base tube from the press too late or soon,
And another, because a child had cried
All night, brought her caliper too quickly
Around its flange, a hundred or more tubes
Might come off the line thin-walled, out of round.
And if the noise drowned a loud joke to drone,
When you stopped to hear, the saw would kick
A crimped or kinked tube you could never catch
Until it swung toward the next machine.
Like medicine, the line was meant to work
One way. Nothing went better than planned
Though the plan's one phrase repeated again
And again, while the tubes, soft from furnaces,
Diminished in the dies, a hot and balky work
I would not choose for a daughter or son,
Though part of the dullest business is fun.
And on dog days all our horseplay was ice
That set us running between cooling vats
Where the tubes went tallowy and vanished
And erupted again in cowls of green smoke
While the cranes roared overhead like angels.
And the boss would lay the gospel down
Because someone complained from far away,
So to this day when I stand in a green pool
Under a clanking air conditioner
Or read how a plane goes mysteriously down
I wonder if it might have been us or some
Other crew who did or did not do what
Now is certain, or if the error is even human.

by Rodney Jones
from Transparent Gestures
Houghton Mifflin, 1989