The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


John Stupp



On midnight shift
guys slept all over the Ford plant
in the cafeteria
in locker rooms
in bins of coveralls
it didn’t matter
when lines went down
at 1:00 A.M.
and the furnace
stopped belching
when the last foreman
gave up any pretense
of supervision
you could run screaming
through the foundry alone
only the machines
were awake
the gears oiled but silent
the great handling systems
tall as a building
for them the job
was never done
making automobile engines
over and over
this was the task
God set out for them
the sun the moon
the rain the snow
meant nothing
like St. Michael
and the others
they stood obedient
every night
and covered us
with their dirty wings



John Stupp

Only God is Perfect


Only God is perfect
the foundry mechanic said
a way of saying
he fucked up
in front of everybody
but protected by the union
he had no real fear
the young foreman
wouldn’t let it drop
the fucking fucker’s fucked
he said
(that word again)
and pointed
to the drive assembly
improperly calibrated
now severely damaged
old hands shrugged
put away toolboxes
with George Wallace
for President decals
nothing would be fixed today
on this shift
it was already 5:00 P.M.
and 100 degrees
in the middle of August
this was 1968
the evening was coming apart
like so many engine blocks
like so many Fords
Lincolns and Mercurys
cracked and unfinished
for their broken supper



John Stupp

Out West


punching in
Bill the tinsmith said
he was thinking
of getting a charcoal griddle
to replace the grill in his backyard
because at the Cheyenne rodeo on TV
he saw them make pancake batter
in a cement mixer
and feed all the cowboys
no one said anything
when the shift whistle blew
he went outside
and stood with his tools
in the parking lot
watching the sun come up
bucking like
a forklift out of the chute



John Stupp



The noise
of great machines
was loud enough
to climb the corrugated walls
at Ford
like gunfire
one explosion after another
as the lines ran faster
than usual
so the union was angry
I filled in for someone
hauled from a rice paddy
with his ears bleeding
how could you
I thought
have survived
a Tet winter
in the holy city of Hue
to face this
but he was cheerful
as could be
an ex-Marine
with a bandage
around his head
on his way
to the cafeteria
he told a superintendent
we need more engines
for the boys
in Asia
and he meant it
so we made more



John Stupp

Back Then


I didn’t know
about girls
when I worked at Ford
so I listened
to men talk about them
like cars
comparing shiny bodies
and engines
it was like going to school
at the seminary
I didn’t see the Beatles
on Ed Sullivan
or know Vietnam started
cut off from the world
was I
with Greek and Latin
but all that
didn’t matter
my foreman said
at lunchtime
in the cafeteria
since I
like all college kids
was fucking useless



John Stupp

For Felix


It happened
one Sunday
on 3 to 11
the lines were down
machines idling
engine blocks piled in carts
there was no foreman
there was no one at the annealing furnace
so Felix collected money
and sent me
to buy Kentucky Fried Chicken
he was smiling
we’re going to play pinochle
for the rest of the shift
he said—
when I got back
the sun was setting
like a firefly
the air was beautiful
somewhere Henry Ford
choked up
just thinking about
a thousand men
sleeping with their eyes open
and not ashamed
to collect overtime




JOHN STUPP is the author of the 2007 chapbook The Blue Pacific and the 2015 full-length collection Advice from the Bed of a Friend both by Main Street Rag. His new book Pawleys Island will be published by Finishing Line Press. He lives near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.



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