“Shorty” by Jesse Bertron

Jesse Bertron


Here is a question about love.
No, it’s about my boss.
No, love—forget what I just said.
How do you speak about a man
who you watch all day long, bringing him
bouquets of wrenches, who you are always
coming up to, saying, Shorty,
would you check this solder/ Shorty
is this flame too high?/ Shorty, help!
The vinyl that was smoking has caught fire!
The poet Garrett Hongo says,
the apprentice puts his body where the body
of his teacher is. I can never remember
the quote right—open to feedback!—
but I remember that it made apprenticeship
sound like a sexy thing.
Shorty, if you’re reading this, please stop!
That was a joke. Of course
you aren’t reading this. It’s a poem!
Shorty, you’re a fifty-two-year-old
journeyman, doing trim-out
in a muddy tract house in the thousand-year
flood plain of the Lower Colorado River.
Why does it feel like an insult, Shorty,
to tell the truth? You will never read this poem.
I wouldn’t be insulted if somebody said
you’ll never earn as much as Shorty in a year
you’ll never turn around a house as fast
you’ll never make a truer solder no one groping
blindly in the dark after a trade will ever feel
as safe working with you no one will ever
want to say your name all day—I swear, all day—
Shorty! Shorty!—Even after work
I’m saying, how it is with Shorty is …
I think now about school, all the school
I’ve been to—many years!—with Shorty sitting
on a five-gallon primer bucket with a toothpick
watching me. Sometimes talking. Watching me
flail beneath this hall bath lav, saying, that’s okay,
mijo, that’s okay each time I curse, and then
finally, taking the channel locks, and doing it right
so I could see. Teachers used to sit with me.
Together we would study some third thing.
Shorty wears a silver bracelet
that shines like a lamp
and underneath it is the hand I read.

from A Plumber’s Guide to Light
2020 Rattle Chapbook Prize Winner


Jesse Bertron: “A Plumber’s Guide to Light is a love letter to the building trades and to the people who work them. This book is populated by people who think they will be saved by work and by those who know they won’t. It looks at the fragile seam that runs between the job site and the home, about the ways that family and work bleed into one another.” (web)

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