1. In the Union Hall
and in the labor temple: one minute of iron silence.
On a painted wall, our brothers and sisters listened and lifted
their hands, up through years, up through watercolored plaster.
Centuries of workers stood together, heads echoing into distance.
After you died I walked into a room overflowing with your absence.
After you died I stood in a room, heavy in my new voice.
When our Local carried silence for you I didn't bow my head.
I held your echo at the fresco—strong in my vision—
proud to be your sister in our ancient work.
Our work. What an unbearable weight. What an unbearable delight.
The Opera House power vault
blows and knocks out the local grid
on our first day of work together.
You haul two gasoline generators
up to the roof, run cable down
the catwalks, power each Leko by hand.
In the air above your crew, you
pull shine out of the dark.
From a swaying yellow lift
twenty feet above the stage,
you rig cable picks to batten lines.
A socket wrench nests
in your palm like a second thumb.
Worklight focuses a glory
around the black hairs on
your head, your stubborn gut.
I wonder if anyone has told you this.
I wonder if you know.
When I hear that you have cancer
my hands go peach-fuzz numb.
I bore my fingernails
into my palm,
hands no longer mine.
I think maybe, maybe gloves
will help, a solid rub, a puff
of breath, a stretch.
success, I turn
to what I learned
from the cold woman
in the public john:
torque the red
forge the tendons
One not-yet-spring evening
we meet for a quick meal.
I eat as slowly as I can
but my plate still fills with crumbs.
You talk about letters you’ve written
to your young son.
You talk about dying
like it’s part of the job,
like this city wouldn’t disintegrate
Scenic structures crimp
and fold, worth nothing.
Welds, all bad, lumped and bulbed,
should be slick and blue.
This color is how you know
the join will hold you say.
You take my useless hands,
pour in a wealth of sparks.
Because you are alive
I will not write your elegy.
I will not write your elegy
because you are alive.
Work on your feet
for 16-hour days.
Clock minutes to fill the room, carry
Calculate amperage. Call
numbers across auditorium air.
Embed metal swarf
in your thumbprint arch.
Smell spent lumber on a saw—sweet char
as the saw goes dull.
& fatigued. Work dirty.
Exhaust the soft oils
of your fingertips on steel.
the rig manipulates a million
watts of power | sometimes we light
only a single lamp | mimic
the setting sun or rising
one | or the limit of dark
over an unseen body
of water | the first potentiometers
were tanks of saline | copper
plates | frequent mortal
accidents | our modern offerings
are more acute | a crushed
foot | a knuckle cut | in place
of prayer | we rest
our knees | into concrete
and sink | our bodies
I spent three days with a relic
sour in my ring-fingertip.
You stayed out sick when chemo
We worked to make the play in spite of this.
Seeing our offering of story and light
God was benevolent.
God handed you a crescent wrench and said
The Work Is Not Yet Finished
Listen. Even the ancients built theatres
as temples to their gods.
I've learned to praise ten thousand knots
tied in tired palms.
Our bodies’ aches are wrapped into this place
as wire twined on wire strands.
I keep the voice of the Almighty
on pieces of tape
with circuit numbers written in your hand.
You will leave us.
These knots will hold your ghost here.
Outside it’s raining, spring-crazy.
Look. Someone’s painted flowers
on streetlight boxes
all across the city.
in memory of Andrew Lon Willhelm
Edited by Sarah Madges.
Header image created by Sarah Madges; source photo by Taylor Riccio.