Two Poems

Up-Nord on the Company Line

College kids on summer break, we lived
in tarpaper shacks at a lumber camp, earning
money with ex-cons, alcoholics and immigrants,
bottom feeders, unqualified to hold better jobs.

As gandy-dancers, we aligned railroad tracks,
cut trees to replace ties, not too deep in the woods
‘cause the no-see-ums and mosquitoes could
suck you dry, thick as flies on day-old road kill.

Duke, the dozer driver, a cut above the others,
showed us months of his un-cashed paychecks
he stashed in a Marsh-Wheeling cigar box.
He bragged he hadn’t touched liquor in a year.

Come July 4th Duke took the train to town,
gone for weeks his diesel Cat sat silent,
no one else knew how to drive a bull-dozer,
the power of a steel blade for cutting trails.

One hot night we helped Duke off the train.
Drunk, he smelled of piss and unclean odors,
not a dime left, his total earnings blasted,
helped to his barracks, he lay in his bunk.

That night he awoke screaming, he saw
the big Cat crawling up his legs, delirious,
Duke shook and howled like a crazy man,
the first delirium tremens we’d ever seen.

An empty bottle rolled under Duke’s bunk,
the cook’s Lucky Tiger hair tonic. Next day
we loaded Duke on the train for treatment,
his stinking mattress smoldered for days.


Throwing a Pot

She centers the clay between hands
brown hands of a peasant in prayer
and the wheel spins without a splash
its rotating rhythm hums as she pressees
a thumb into its heart, the clay yields
towering higher, wet with clay her
patient hands shape and smooth
while fingers tease the pot’s belly
others caress its neck and the mouth
opens wide a finger wets its lip
kissed by the thumb that gave it life

As I watch the pot cut from the wheel
I thought I heard those lips murmur
Go gently sister go gently, pray

—John L. Campbell, Brookfield, WI