Third

Claudia Emerson

BPR 40 | 2013


He survived the first beach landing and an entire
world war for this: the textile mill, buildings
looming over the river, windows painted
black during the war so they could run the third
shift he came to choose — easier he found
to black out the days, shutter them, so that the hours
that had been for drinking or the dreams
he could better sleep through, to wake evenings
for cigarettes and coffee. The trick — not to wake
too much, avoid the gaze of the face in the mirror
as he shaved it, watch static on the television screen
or the crosshairs of a test pattern. Nights were
easier bright and loud — rooms the size
of airplane hangars, close as circus tents,
dye room, spinning room, his the weave room,
voiceless, lit with sound, rows of looms,
their ceaseless weft and warp, shuttles swift,
percussive — clawhammer-like — air thick
with the smell of cotton, lint in their lungs, their hair,
sheeting like dyed, transfigured fields, or fields
bleached to blinding, a collective shroud.
Graveyard shift

made them all equal, orphaned; those with families
saw them Sundays, afternoon its own ghost.
It was easier to bear what no one else wanted —
a world just lightening when his shift ended, the river
they all crossed running with the night's dye.