Today in the PEN Poetry Series, PEN America features a poem by Joe Hall. 


Dawn, Third Shift

Printing textbooks is a heavy responsibility, but Von Hoffmann Corporation has the muscle to do the job.


In the production a spade

the bell sounds swallow
the circular stage

singing myself into ramps and those ramps

fasten flags to an axle

along fields a sky trades
to the motel running parallel
to paradise, the people

talking pussy or cock on the conveyor line

walking the arabesque
changing ways cross the inlet

down sand sun kill

spilling maps from every pore
macadam slides over Baltimore

then split this work to satisfy the demands of infinity           

to think here, in this factory,  again of you

you in the swollen firewalls
love departed

without a face
down to the river

the wind eaves double

a small crime under a higher tide
where each actor is alone
where the fire was shame
and servitude: the other glory 

in such inundation—from the automatic equipment

cascades of warm constellations, joy rampaging

under a sycamore leaf in a deer’s casing

old house shakes
floors up a mountain 

at the hip of an industrial compactor

the yet unlit river
walks glad we’d found someone

to collapse the old suture, poor neighborhoods

Laguna Vista, La Caverna, New
Orleans—white people lit by naked steel

where flocks of data caw against the rain

the manufactory work floor, the walls

stumble through beer cans on the lawn

look up into the light, the paradise to come
meat in topiary shapes will not weep, swaddled

in burlap, the nursery bed
transplanting popular pleasure

into the form of the house in the form of the street
I am the manager’s office, I am Mr. Jupiter

I receive the box and stack it up
you follow a poem, weeping, into the reeds

the paradise a greenhouse growing
into what we can shutter— drag

an eighteen wheeler, whatever furniture

a picture a jellied piece

don’t forget words receive
I as much to stones and stumps

a chalk mark on the resurrection belt

of the blade, its tight housing turns aside
men and women, to watch it shear

flower, delicately, to dwell

means to leave so many alone
to be called cruel

like bowls open alive

between your arms but it flowers
where I can butcher a place

in bridges and rancid gold foil

all the casings where you want I see him

or “stuffed clouds” in the tank your eye my lips
10 on the shift in the palace of grime

in pictures in his underwear feeding

shined behind high up
light floating into a machine

—with fire and flood menacing
the enormous need—to step

into the shower, I should have showered

so much carnage, joy en bloc
you were struck by scalding water

light without warmth

comfort without pleasure
heaven poured gasoline over

what does our distance mean?

the drive up Rt. 5
waiting in work clothes

I’m sure you understand it

so give it to me


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they’re published (no spam, no news, just poems).