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American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-06

On a perfect Labor Day, nobody would have to work, and even the “associates” in the big box stores could quit stocking shelves. Well, it doesn’t happen that way, does it? But here’s a poem about a Labor Day that’s really at rest, by Joseph Millar, from North Carolina.

Labor Day

Even the bosses are sleeping late

in the dusty light of September.

The parking lot’s empty and no one cares.

No one unloads a ladder, steps on the gas

or starts up the big machines in the shop,

sanding and grinding, cutting and binding.

No one lays a flat bead of flux over a metal seam

or lowers the steel forks from a tailgate.

Shadows gather inside the sleeve

of the empty thermos beside the sink,

the bells go still by the channel buoy,

the wind lies down in the west,

the tuna boats rest on their tie-up lines

turning a little, this way and that.

Poem copyright 2012 by Joseph Miller from ”Blue Rust” (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012), and reprinted by permission of the author and publisher. American Life in Poetry is supported by The Poetry Foundation and the English department at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.
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