Thursday, December 09, 2004

Last Hired

On Monday returned the man I fired
wanting the phone number of the laborer he loaned money to,
and stood while I wrote it out on a scrap of shingle
and the crew on the floor kept hammering

with the silence of three hammers tapping out different beats.
I scratched down the name and seven digits with a flat pencil,
scrawling across the ridged grain and then with it.
He thanked me with an uncomfortable smile and left.

He was incompetent, but incompetence is not a crime
-- I never liked him.
Out of almost pure intuition, right from the beginning
and I noticed how quickly the other men closed in beside me

against him. He must have felt it, too,
those days as he knocked the nails out of his screwed-up formwork,
and spit saliva in the hammermarks of his windowsills
to raise the grain. Must have every day

felt more alone. He had a habit of mumbling explanations
that trailed into incoherence. But he was not a stupid man.
when I asked him to repeat himself, he shrugged me off
with a sigh and asked me what I wanted him to do.

The morning I fired him I walked down to the street
before he could leave his truck, and was on the way surprised
and annoyed by a hypocritical watering in my eyes that went away.
Then catching him, saw-in-hand, I told him to go back to the truck.

I said it deliberately hard, so he would guess
before I said the words. Then we stood together. And he took it
as if he expected, and failure were something he had grown around.
Then he got in his truck, drove the street, and was gone.

Mark Turpin