Laughter Lifeboat

A poem by Fred Voss

In a machine shop a machinist will laugh
whenever he can
no matter how dirty or tired he is
no matter how many tiny stainless steel slivers he can’t see are stabbing
his palms
no matter how many years it’s been since he’s gotten a raise
he will laugh
whenever he can
it is his last weapon
after all the layoffs
toothaches wage cuts crazy bosses
raised rents freeway tire blowouts
near mental crackups near gunfire near suicide
after his wife has left him for the vice president
of a bag company
and he has broken his last shoelace rather
than break down crying or go berserk and punch out his boss he will think
of something funny
and tell other machinists near him about it
and they will all begin laughing louder and louder until all the machinists
in the area at their workbenches and machines are laughing
and the laughter becomes a lifeboat
and everyone climbs in
and keep it floating
by laughing
aching machinists with arthritis and hernias and bad backs
sad machinists whose wives left them for plumbers
or stockbrokers
bored machinists who don’t know if they can stand watching their fly-cutter shave steel
one more minute
without going mad
machinists with bad knees bad landlords bad consciences bad brakes bad bets bad credit
bad haircuts laugh until the tears roll down their cheeks and their bodies shake from head to toe
laughter is all they have left
and it is warm in their belly and soothing to their brain and if they read
they might even know that they are probably without knowing it also laughing
at the existential absurdity
of being the only creature on earth who knows
it must die
but right now it is enough to put down their wrenches and hammers
and float
in the wonderful lifeboat

Fred Voss has been a machinist for 40 years. He has published three poetry collections with Bloodaxe, and his latest poetry pamphlet is ROBOTS HAVE NO BONES, published by Culture Matters.

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