I worked with a man who’d once made a record;
the booming bass, his teenage fingers
etched forever into vinyl.
But mortgaged John had no record player.
I’d said I’d take the 45 and make an MP3.
Running errands in a coffee-colored office,
occasionally answering an olive-drab handset,
John kept his mop-top down, grafting
from weekend to weekend and suddenly was 60:
60, and John had never left the country.
He had no catalog but this record,
no watery footage of his combo grinning,
smoking like airmen on Allied runways
relaxed against their van like a silver bomber,
leatherneck heroes caught in Super-8.
No cover-shot glory, only this record,
from ‘67 – I’d have been in short trousers
itching through childhood obligations,
torpid visits to surrogate aunties,
early training for office enervation.
But I made a record once, with psychedelic echoes,
and sent it to a German kid who found me on the internet.
He found me 40 and new to the dole queue.
Since it turned to politics, I’m done with all that internet.
And now I have no record but my workmate John’s.
I’ll try to stretch the cape of sleep
across the gaping pit of night,
and rise less depleted
to make an almost-livelihood,
knowing I’ll be mugged by
those thugs called statistics.
But not long now till
When we’re octogenarians
I hope we remember
in muscle or in memory
boredom and danger,
stanchions and pit props,
battledress and stethoscopes,
ledger sheets that couldn’t count
the dignities of labor.