American Life in Poetry: Column 440

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

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.


We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2012 by Joseph Millar from his most recent book of poems, Blue Rust, Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012. Poem reprinted by permission of Joseph Millar and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2017 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.