Jan 28 — Jamaal May – – “Shift”

Monday,  January 28   “I used to want to be this bad at a job.”

I hadn’t posted a poem from Detroit poet Jamaal May in a while.  He writes “Shift” with the subtle density of language that characterizes his poetry.   “Shift” asks a reader to read two or three times to find a way into a world of growing up into an adult’s awareness of often violent power moves by supervisors over the people temporarily in their power; this all the while learning the honor of showing up and doing a job.   It’s worth the 2nd and 3rd read, better out loud with pauses.

Have a blest week.

john sj

p.s. In Detroit we are a couple hours into the beautiful stillness that often accompanies a snow storm with only a little wind.

 

today’s post:  “Shift”

Acting on an anonymous tip, a shift supervisor

at a runaway shelter strip-searched six teenagers.

Mrs. Haver was taping shut the mouths

of talkative students by the time she neared retirement,

and Mr. Vickers, a skilled electrician in his day,

didn’t adapt when fuses became circuit breakers,

a fact that didn’t stop him from tinkering

in our basement until the house was consumed by flame.

 

I used to want to be this bad at a job.

I wanted to show up pissy drunk to staff meetings

when the power point slides were already dissolving

one into another, but I had this bad habit

of showing up on time

and more sober than any man should be

when working audio/visual hospitality

in a three star hotel that was a four star hotel

before he started working there.

 

When the entire North Atlantic blacked out,

every soul in the Hyatt Regency Dearborn flooded

the parking lot panicked about terrorists and rapture,

while I plugged in microphones and taped down cables

by flashlight—you know, in case whatever cataclysm

unfolded didn’t preempt the meetings. Meetings,

before which I’d convince a children’s hospital

to pay fifteen dollars to rent a nine dollar laser pointer.

Thirty-five bucks for a flip chart,

extra paper on the house. Is it good to be good at a job

if that job involves pretending to be a secret service agent

for Phizer’s George Bush impersonator? I don’t know

 

if it’s better to be good at a bad job or bad at a good job,

but there must be some kind of satisfaction

in doing a job so poorly, you’re never asked to do it again.

I’m not saying he’s a hero, but there’s a guy out there

who overloaded a transformer and made a difference,

because in a moment, sweating through my suit,

groping in the dark when my boss was already home,

 

I learned that I’d work any job this hard, ache

like this to know that I could always ache for something.

There’s a hell for people like me where we shovel

the coal we have mined ourselves into furnaces

that burn the flesh from our bones nightly,

and we never miss a shift.

 

BY JAMAAL MAY

http://www.jamaalmay.com

 

 

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