Reading Matters

Michael Chitwood celebrates hard work’s gritty grind and glory

To say that Michael Chitwood teaches in the English Department at UNC Chapel Hill is absolutely a true statement. But it’s a statement that belies the whole of Michael Chitwood, a poet, whose seventh collection, “Living Wages,” is about physical work and all its accoutrements. In these poems, you will encounter wood planes, buckets, pickup beds, mattocks, picks, pneumatic drills and more. With one of the best “ears” among contemporary poets, Chitwood, who has himself worked on construction crews, in a textile mill and for a highway department, celebrates here work and all its gritty grind and glory.

HOW IT WAS DONE,

WHITE FURNITURE COMPANY

-- “The last piece of furniture came down the line, was worked on and then the line closed down behind it, and the workers in taht section would be let go.”

-- from Closing: The Life and Death of an American Factory

Let’s say the last piece

was a chain, this product

with its slow progress

closing the plant.

The lumber, select oak,

was brought from the kiln.

Doesn’t that sound like “killed”

they joked, since joking

was the best to be made of it.

And then the rough mill,

where for years they danced

the rip saw’s rough waltz,

his hand to her hand, her hand

back to his, the barked plank

becoming usable.

After the wood was glued together

the workers in that area separated.

Then it was machined and the people...

Then sanded, assembled, finished.

Finished: the fine or decorative work,

the final treatment, the quality or state

of being perfected.

And then rubbed and packed,

that careful massage, that last touching

of the feet, the legs, the arms, the back.

-- From Living Wages, Tupelo Press, $16.95 paper., orders@tupelopress.org.

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