Hay Bucking 

That eighth-grade summer I was just a shade

above a buck sixteen, a would-be freshman

on the cross-country team who ran ten miles

afternoons, bone-tired, after mornings scuttled

from picking peppers on my hands and knees.

One day past midpoint of the break, thick clouds

gaumed up and billowed darkly in fraught portents

as I slogged into work. “It rained last night,”

Jake muttered, chewing on a blade of straw,

“and looks like rain a-coming. Best hitch in

the bundles fast before the downpour soon

or else the hay will mold and grow a fungus.

Could even burst in flames if waterlogged.”

I nodded sure, not one to analyze

his terse and contradictory country logic,

and hoped for torrents, but of course was thankful

for any reprieve from the crawling hours

spent chucking ripe poblanos into buckets.

We took the truck and packed the bales in stacks

then levered up each sodden load toward

the next top-heaver under-slugging silage

until it dropped into the silo, snug.

While looking off to heaven if thunder shook,

I heaved up hay-bales over half my weight,

those toppling burdens cradled and released.

With every catch and grip and swing and loft,

my brain was rattled and my muscles ached.

And then it mizzled and we had to toss

the hay-bales quicker—snatch and pitch.

Each raindrop fatter as we hustled fodder,

those bricks of hay took off, off-kilter, flicked

no faster, further than my crookback frame

could make them fly. At last, a laggard, I winged

one up which tumbled in a gap—as I

went teetering, fell backwards and capsized.

And all I know is next day I woke up

all-over broken, tender, oozy edges

in places like my toenails and my armpits,

as if I’d been raked over by an adze;

my shoulder blades a rout of bolus, tendons

racked in knotted folds, my sinews lactic

slurry. I couldn’t drag myself from bed.

I laid there, aching. Eeking out the minutes.

The bane of gruntwork made my flesh no more

than harrowed bulk of trundled needles. So

haggard, limp, I slumped in every sprawlful limb 

like timber of old walls all fallen-in,

a bone-house sagging in its very marrow.

Called in that day—and didn’t run a week—

and Jake worked harder, wrung with worry for

quiet burnings in the barn bowed flush with hay.

Homecoming

 

My kid brother, Josh, who’s 28-years-old, still lives

at home and works at Wal-Mart, the graveyard shift

to earn an extra buck—without insurance, a pinch 

less than forty hours. Each week he’s stuck within

the shuffle. His flipflopped part-time schedule brings

him back on Sundays, where he punches in, hopped up. 

He wishes he could turn it down, turn back to sleep.

He needs to take a load off, but instead he off-loads

shipping crates, price-guns invoice, cancels breakage, 

stacks up stock, pulls liquor from a locker, takes peanuts

out from boxes. Shelving, he ignores the expiration dates

before he sneaks a 15-minute break for lunch—dinner— 

whatever you’d call Pop Tarts, Red Bull, and a protein shake

scarfed down between two cigarettes. He sees the same Day-

glo façade of strip malls with their aisles of ricocheting light, 

alone within a prefab big-box crater where he loses sight

of anything except the whitewashed walls and an overhead

twitch of fluorescent luster, before he punches out, freefalls 

fast asleep, climbing in a hatchback with his girlfriend

of the week. Awake, she nudges him; they kiss. She drops

him off. His drooping eyes no match for staring down 

the clock. He boosts some painkillers, punching out.

I pick him up this time; he says I should be proud,

not everyone’s the brother of the Son of God. What 

kind of crap is that? But then he crazy-talks about

infinity’s a maze of circles. C’mon, nobody’s stuck on earth.

End times are almost over. I’m raptured into some divinity— 

He’s facing the lit-up runaway of Dover’s airbase.

you must have faith, we’ll all be judged by our good works.

I ask him why he hasn’t quit? —Fuck, you think 

I haven’t tried? Not buying it, he rolls up his sleeve:

a new tattoo dyed royal. —A present to myself. Damned

near killed me, too. I turned into a zombie. Face blue enough 

to match my collar. Needles at the shop delivered shell-

fish residue into my blood. Soon shocked my system

Dragged ass to work, but they sent me back for once

saying I’d scare away their customers. Felt like a heart attack

for two-three days while drifting off, seeing stars,

and barely knowing I was there enough to half believe 

there might be any world still reeling beyond the end of me...

A scar’s since shriveled up my arm. Hardly like I’d been

out huffing, but mom and dad got pissed when I went off 

to party. But hey, we’re born to suffer for our will to live.

Later, I argue with my parents. How could they

miss the warning signs? A shrink looks at him, 

sends him upstate to the mental ward. Giving up

the drink and pills, he starts to think more clearly,

and sees a hole he’s dug himself and can’t afford 

to backfill. He assumes an attitude of some working

stiff; resumes his makeshift grind. But my brother’s

warped tattoo proclaims, “Mad 4 Life,” no kidding.

Will Cordeiro has recent work appearing or forthcoming in Agni, Cimarron Review, The Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Poet Lore, Radar Poetry, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, The Threepenny Review, and elsewhere. Will’s manuscript Trap Street won the 2019 Able Muse Book Award, debuting summer 2020. Will co-edits the small press Eggtooth Editions and currently lives in Guadalajara, Mexico.

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