MILWAUKEE, GARY, FLINT
On the residential streets of industrial towns,
no one says hello between 11 and 4,
but mothers to each other, allies
against the damaged and downsized
men who kick pebbles and stare past what is here.
What is here? The steel plant closed
and moved to Juarez. A discount shoe store’s
sprouting branches in town, hiring girls
to model sneakers. The radio announces
another job fair at the Tech.
At 2 pm, a woman from the grouphouse
chants, “buth, C’mon buth!” and always gets her ride.
Old men emerge from bungalows to kill
a few hours at the VFW.
An adjunct from the U. scans the bus,
watches a murder of T-shirts swagger
on, aiming down the Minnesota pipeline
to drift through heatless warehouses in broken cities,
survive on drugs or tricks,
until they don’t.
Hooker, lawyer, mechanic,
a fraction of this town has enough work.
Some say between jobs and wrench
the engine of a stalled career;
some blame government and join militias.
All rise, splash off their waking dread,
make lists for the week or day.
Breathe, eat, sleep.
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Allison Cummings has published poems and essays in a number of literary magazines, including Passages North, Puerto del Sol, Earthspeak, So to Speak, and others. She has been an editor at The Madison Review and at Amoskeag, a small literary magazine from Southern New Hampshire University, where she now teaches. The above poems are from her current manuscript in progress, Occupations, poems about work and being out of work.