While her classmates cut in panels, bent pipe,
worked from blueprints, the black girl
ran for coffee, rustled stock, drilled
ceiling anchors by the mile, and swept
the shanty out; often worked alone. So,
when she was paired with a crackerjack
mechanic, a brother, and the foreman asked
how they’d like to disconnect
a transformer, high voltage, placing the cutters
in her palms, she leapt
like a racehorse out the starting gate.
The white boss walked them over to where the end
of cable lay in flaccid loop. Lifted it to show
the circle of fresh-cut copper, round
and wide-eyed as a shiny dollar coin: proof
power was dead. She was fired up.
But Omar, bless that man, had to teach.
They walked the length of the site
and back, retrieved his meter, as he explained
good practice: test equipment, take no one’s word.
The meter buzzed: 480 live.
The two looked down; saw wet mud
beneath their boots. Looked up:
white faces — like in a postcard
from a lynching — gathered
on the ledge above
First Week Apprentice
I can’t recall that journeyman’s name,
just his gentle, rutted face
and three bits of wisdom.
About working off staging:
Watch out you don’t take a Dixie.
About the huddle of tradesmen
who stopped work
to stare: Ignore them.
About villages in Korea entered
a quarter-century past, and so many nights since
in his dreams: You had to kill everyone.
Every one. Or kids, when they grew,
would avenge the deaths. Then —
the first girl in workboots and hardhat,
an apparition that called him to confession —
That’s why they draft
boys too young to think.