American Life in Poetry: Column 344


I love listening to shop talk, to overhear people talking about their work. Their speech is not only rich with the colorful names of tools and processes, but it’s also full of resignation. A job is, after all, a job. Here’s a poem by Jorge Evans of Minnesota, who’s done some hard work.


Fair season and we’re tent pitching
on holy grounds in central Illinois,
busting through pavement with jack hammers,
driving home a stake that will be pulled two months
from now. One of us holds, the other presses
down, grease shooting between cracks
in the old hammer’s worn shell
to our hands and faces—one slip and we’ve
lost our toes. I’m from the warehouse,
not the tent crew. I haven’t ridden around
in tent haulers across the nation
popping tents here and there, but for this,
the state fair, the warehousers are let out
to feel important. Around us a silvered city
has risen, white vinyl tents at full mast
and clean for the first time in a year. It’s August.
It’s the summer’s dogged days when humidity
doesn’t break until midnight, an hour after
the fair’s closed down. We’re piled on back
of a flatbed with our tools, our tiredness.
We’re a monster understood best
by Midwesterners, devouring parking lots
and fields, our teeth stained by cigarette
and chew, some of us not old enough, some
too old. All of us here for the overtime.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Jorge Evans. Reprinted from the South Dakota Review,  Vol. 48, no. 2, Summer 2010, by permission of Jorge Evans and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 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.