Montréal Serai included two of my poems in their latest issue. In the following editorial excerpt, Prasun Lala introduces the issue’s theme. One of the poems, “Early Work History” then follows. I hope you will have time for a solid look at Montreal Serai and return to it often: there are not enough literary journals that are so social-politically grounded, artistic, and inclusive.
“As mentioned in our call for submissions, many of Montréal Serai’s friends and subscribers find themselves in a precarious state. Once employed full-time, now working part-time or on contract work with no social coverage – and no bargaining rights. These destabilizing times of growing inequality have given rise to the precariat—a social class formed of people suffering from precarity. The word is a portmanteau of proletariat and precarious. It is an unpredictable state, defined by insecurity and lack of continuity.”
Early Work History
Sold sugary fruit-flavored shaved ice piraguas
on busy South Bronx streets for chump change.
Opened laundromat mornings to sweep mop
roll down lock steely cocoon face at night.
Loaded outdoor lumber yard truck with plywood
sheet-rock sandbags cement—delivered.
Worked unlicensed plumbing in basement
crotch-high stagnant water setting pumps,
breaking walls for sewer lines leading nowhere.
Sat atop towering ladder over dime-store field
of plastic electric terry-cloth trash as security;
in Christmas rush didn’t care who stole what.
Shelved books at green Hudson Valley C.C. library;
set up embalming cadaver film strips for pale Jr. morticians.
Painted plastered removed generations of paint
from Victorian moldings doorways crafted doors.
Cleaned up broken glass salsa & pickles on aisle eight;
stacked Coco Puffs above Raisin Bran above Cheerios.
Cornered soft retired old lady over my quick-dial phone
into buying TV Guide and Time—10% for cop widows!
Lifted back-breaking boxes off rattling conveyor belts
overnight to load UPS trucks for morning deliveries.
Wore shirt and tie and lied about assets and mortgages
to bankers in Bed Stuy Forest Hills on Fifth Avenue;
mystery shopping reminded racism’s still green.
Did Saturday nights in a creaking Jamaica Queens house
to room-check ten teenage lost boys—kept knives
dispensed meds—labeled a counselor but not.
Switched roles to help state-fostered delusionals
leave psych wards for apartments—but stuck
in office writing weekly billable fiction—counting
Prozac Haldol Prolixin pills on home visits.
There’s more but I should get to the point:
the application had three spaces for work history.
The interviewer smirked & told me to sit.
Twenty years is a long time teaching tennis…
ever done anything else?
“A few jobs here and there but look
my tennis resume is solid is pretty solid
& all the references are easy to check.”
I was selling TVs and Camcorders that winter
for base salary & commissions—said
thirty-nine was too old to keep teaching tennis.
What I wanted to do was write poems.
*A version of this poem first appeared in Longshot (1999)
Until next time,