Mechanic in a Photograph Taken in 1940
Barely in frame, he stands
on the far right of a scene
shaded in ochre, sepia, brown,
his lower half obscured by the 1938 Dodge
he’s working on, or about to.
Five other employees take
a more central role, but from
his position on the margins
he seems to challenge the camera’s eye,
elbow cocked, left hand on hip,
as if waiting with mild
irritation for the moment to pass
so that he might return to work.
For it’s midday — the work’s not done.
I’ve arrived late to see
him all but lost, adrift
in time and space. His hands
(along with millions more)
built what we live inside, along, nearby.
Brute labor, dignified, much of it
unrecorded. Let’s call
things by their proper names
even as we dismay over
what’s lost, over how most
of what we do is misaligned,
awry, is slipshod, slighted.
Precision rejects vague prescription,
remakes in mind
all we’ve made wayward, adjusts
the frame till outside’s sighted,
spills in, haunted, laughing, both.
Whatever the past is
there is no door to it,
there is only the unsolvable
difference between is and was.
Ahead of it our ordered tasks
undo themselves as each
is completed and goes
to where all things go that are gone forever,
that is, goes where all things go,
as the world spins endlessly, and nothing
ever changes. Then it does.
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