Working the Long Shift

Late in tired winter afternoons,
the Goat-Man returns home from the mill to nap,
his flannel shirt smelling of core room dust
and the fire of pouring floors.
The children climb his belly, a fat, safe bed,
and lay their faces upon his chest,
his heart thudding with the steady
pound and clang of the shakeout.
When he rises, they slide from him like fruit.
He fills his lunch pail with a heel of bread, sausage and onion.
All night long he will move through the plant like shadow,
through the belts high above their heads,
kicking down handfuls of sand,
tapping on the tunnel walls beneath them
when the line is down.
He paints the shoes of those who sleep,
nails their pantlegs down,
feeds the fingers of tired men to their machines.
They nod and waken with a start,
a cold breath of wind on their sweaty necks.
They know he's about, for their matches are missing,
the steaming sand has frozen and choked the slinger,
and no one can find the pattern for knuckles.