Physical Plant

by Billy Reynolds

I’ve seen rage bankrupt Fridays, lifers blocked
and baffled for so long like a duct at the openings.
I’ve hosed down the shop floor with the others,
dried it with squeegees like it was an infield.

I’ve seen the hyperactive single parent
with one dead eye and two small kids squirt the hose
at the contemplative sixty-year-old man
about to retire after thirty two years.

For once payback outruns restraint.
This old man with a long fuse and shaved head
that glistened with beads of sweat picked up the hose,
grabbed the jerk by the belt loops and let the spray gun
do all the talking and the water misunderstood,
welts rising below the waist, the jerk’s ass burning.

The screams did not speak of horseplay. This was primal.

It’s happened before and will happen again,
the old guy backing up like a champion prizefighter,
the young one, who delivered the mail to Town Hall
every day at 9 am, who’d been passed over time and again
for better jobs, charging hard, a little protest
for the forklifts and oil pans,
the entire block and tackle of the physical plant.

Now the other man now smiled sheepishly,
backing up, as if to say “whoa there, big guy,”
his steel-toe’s faint tracks starring the cement
with each birth mark of toe and heel,
and then he backpedaled and fear overturned the smile
he thought to shine with. It’s happened before
and will happen again, though I wasn’t going
to be here to see it, the boss man shouting,
both men trying to laugh off their shaking hands,
not these so much, but a studied silence, a silence that equals,
such as after the town’s Christmas trees were mulched
behind Dead Man’s Park, the woods-edge knee-high in mulch,
everybody looking down, those two and us.

Billy Reynolds lives in Tifton, Georgia, where he is an assistant professor of English at Abraham Baldwin College. His poems and reviews have been published in CutBank, DIAGRAM, New Orleans Review, storySouth, and Third Coast, among others.