“Making a Living” by Brent Fisk

Brent Fisk


I’m dreaming of the place in the woods
where the deer sleeps, the hole in the grass where it hid.
Mother dreams of coffee cups rimmed with lipstick,
of white plates, knife-marked, stacked along a counter.
And father has gone to the factory,
leaves only a space in the snow where the car covered gravel,
leaked oil, a few paw prints where the cat kept warm.
My father banging on the beaten hood
scared the cat to safety and me from sleep.
I float at the fringe of dawn,
sense my mother’s still sleeping, my father not long gone.
Sleep has the warmth of blankets.
Years of scraped ice accumulate,
and decades of cars fighting movement like cold knuckles.
Even in his sleep my father works,
dreams of snipped wires, of clocking in,
of waiting for the whistled shift change,
that stream of pot-bellied men gray with wolfish beards,
their safety glasses and steel-toed boots,
their rough hands clutching time cards like lottery tickets.
More ice scraping, the mailbox stuffed with bills,
all the bad news at six o’clock, a tough pot roast, a ratty afghan.
The water heater ticks away like a clock.
Today pulls out, a punctual train,
and already tomorrow triggers the crossing gate.
Hours pass like cattle cars, and way at the end—
retirement’s sad caboose.
This train flattens men like worn pennies.
This train waits for the end of my father.
The hole of him sitting at the end of my bed,
waiting for me to wake and take his place.

from Rattle #24, Winter 2005


Brent Fisk: “I try to nail down a time and place with words. I want an image to walk down a dark hall with just the tip of a cigarette to let you know it’s coming. I want the right words to rise like moths from the grass. Sometimes when you get close enough to accomplishing that readers tap into a poem. They hear the floorboards creak. They hear the window rattle. They see the moon exactly as I describe it. Getting that close is like finding a wad of money in an old shirt’s pocket.”

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