Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, SECTION GANG: AFTERNOON, by NORMAN BOLKER



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SECTION GANG: AFTERNOON, by            
First Line: A simmering sun glows and gleams
Last Line: His pick and shovel in their cool dank resting places for the night.
Subject(s): Afternoon; Labor & Laborers; Railroads; Work; Workers; Railways; Trains


A simmering sun glows and gleams,
reflects in oily splashes on the naked backs of men.
It's hot. But still the gandy dancers
smash -- lift,
smash -- lift
their pointed picks in constant dulling rhythm
smash -- lift,
smash -- lift --
the gravel, punctured, torn from pleasant lethargy,
lies scattered, lost like pieces of an
unsolved third-dimension jigsaw puzzle.
Shovels scoop in constant tempo,
scoop the scattered jagged gravel
while it moans and claws at the slippery, slicing steel.
(Coarse and gray is the gravel that has faced the world.
Cool, black, and fine,
smelling the earthy smell of earth --
that is the gravel that lies beneath.)
Skeletons of railroad tracks --
rusty twisted rails,
gnarled ties beginning to show the first sweet softness of decay --
Tell me, what do you know?
What have the thousand rolling wheels told you?
Do they whisper softly as they slip along their way?
Do they shriek as their brake-blocks
grip their flying edge and send them grating roughly in your flange?
Does the slow freight tell you one thing
and the Zephyr say another,
or are you just dumb lifeless rusty twisted rails
and gnarled ties?
The gandy dancer doesn't know. What does he care for songs and beauty?
All he wants is a full belly, a little love and sleep.
So he'll pull out the rusty rails,
and put new shiny ones in their place.
He'll pull out the splintery ties and put new square ones,
sticky with black creosote,
in their places...
But it's ties on the bed,
rails on the ties,
and gravel between the rails --
that's the way they build railroads.
But first you have to sew the rails to the ties.
The hammer's your needle, the spike's your thread,
and the best spiker is the head man
in any gang of gandy dancers.
It takes good eyes and stringy muscles
to stitch a steel rail to a hardwood log.
The mallet headed hammer has a narrow orbit.
It fights to fling itself away,
but the good spiker will guide it home --
straight to the round button-head of the stubborn railroad spike.
The rails may be fastened down, and safe for the scrapes of
another generation of whirling freight car wheels,
but the track isn't complete. It's body substance is gone until the gandy dancers throw back the
gritty gravel in the ties and tamp it down.
Now the gravel has a new pattern and lies smooth and refreshed.
But the gandy dancer's tired.
Muscles that have been
tearing ballast
laying ties
and smashing spikes
grow tired,
and the gandy dancer smiles when he lays
his pick and shovel in their cool dank resting places for the night.





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