Asphalt Driveway Co., Part II
A paver connects to a dump truck — it’s
A steel form the asphalt flows into when
The load is raised and it lays the mat and
There’s a place for the novice grunts to stand
And stir the searing heavy stuff to the
Corners with a shovel and because it’s
Often not as wide as needed and as
Constancy and speed are required the
Grunt must fling shovelfuls carefully with
Haste for as long as necessary with
The steaming asphalt and the blazing
Sun and a few of the new guys if they
Made it through the day if they returned to
The yard the next morning maybe could work.
The labor absorbs
attention so there’s no time
beyond the immediate
calling for utmost effort.
There was a job in the open country
On a hilltop with a glorious view
And we prepared the ground for a lengthy
Driveway on a cool morning tearing out
The old asphalt with a maul shovels and
The tractor and when the earth was smoothed we
Spread the underlying stones with shovels
And rakes and there’s an art to seeing the
High and low places and spreading smoothly
And as we were working sporadically
And then attentively we noticed the
Clouds becoming dark anticipating
Rain and it cheered our hearts at the prospect
Of honorably working half the day.
Our hearts jumped with the
prospect of lucky freedom
from a day’s labor
as children playing hooky
who are blameless and shameless.
“You are really good at taking s---” said
Steve who was on the way to becoming
A chief and I was puzzled as every
Grunt took abuse from Willie and why should
I take anything personally? I
Could do the work was paying for college
And was Steve complimenting? I don’t know.
Summers later near the ending of a
Day some kids were laughing at me because
I could hardly stand I was five-foot-two
And I looked like a kid and Carrie our
Chief told them to shut up and they did and
I was grateful because I was doing
Good work and had earned everyone’s respect.
In Oxford England
the university dons
and the students weren’t
exchanging profanity —
they didn’t know hard labor.
I was nearing the end of my time on
The crews and I had chosen not to drive
The trucks as I saw difficulty that
Might threaten my job so I stayed a grunt
Those summers and they knew I was going
To college but not to Oxford England
The final year and I didn’t tell them
Because some might have made it harder for
Me or not I don’t know but once Willie
Had an easy day sealcoating which meant
Pushing a broom and he chose me to go
Because he knew I was leaving and he
Let me sleep in the cab between jobs and
So we had the easiest day ever.
And then Willie said
I would tell my grandchildren
about him and me
about summers of hard work
about this one easy day.
Upon my arrival at Oxford and
St. Michael’s Hall for a year of study
Hearing the pealing bells in the morning
I thought of the guys lining up in the
Yard in the four crews before dawn ready
For a day of hard labor and I was
Grateful for the rich experience of
Putting in driveways paying my own way
Discovering “culture” and mixing with
A different sort of people with whom my
Words had to be carefully weighed before
I spoke — and today I’m very grateful
To have known wrenching metamorphosis
To have adopted whole-hearted effort.
I am so grateful
to see the capacity
the precision and
and the talent required
to control a tractor’s blade.
Another morning sun will sear the air —
Such humidity. The whole body aches.
To rise again to labor hard will tear
Muscles from sinews. The tired body quakes.
Shades don’t cool the blazing of the noon sun.
Within a soul a fury wakes to coil
A wrath to hurl the maul to powder tons
Of stone to hide a shame in deadly toil.
Evening glows with the grace of sunset’s rose.
At twilight the sweat dries in salty cakes
Across those huge slumped shoulders and he dozes
As he stumbles as he trudges as he aches.
He dreams of mountains cold rivers and lakes —
The earth is so beautiful that he aches.