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Poem: The Roofers 

Bare backs glistening like wet stones, they stand
bowed and hammer-swinging. To say they’re tanned

is dead wrong. A uniform is what it is,
plus jeans and boots, plus weight.  Each bears his

sweat in a different way. For example, the one
who, in a few moments, will fall, is having fun

with a fly he’s freed from a roll of tar paper.
You’ve come five hundred miles and now you’re

here, amigo, he says. You’re farther from home
than I, Chico, and I’m farther from home

than I ever thought possible. All this time,
an old radio has been playing. All this time,

the cambered shift of shingles to shoulders that know
the heft of sixty pounds. And when the radio

starts its slow slide from ridge-top to drip-edge,
when it slips and flips and kicks and falls to the hedge

below, they laugh, to a man they laugh, but the man
who’ll fall laughs least. Perhaps in his gut he can

feel that gutter giving way beneath him,
or perhaps the radio was his. Or perhaps, in some dim

nod to weight’s habit of tending to stillness,
his one great still act is to witness

what will come and where it will come from.
For years, he’s said: He’s working, he can’t come

home for a phone call, Mamá. He pauses now,
wrist to brow, eyes closed, not thinking of how

it got to be this way but when, when
did that lapse linger?  If his friends ask, then

he tells them straight out: My brother was killed,
killed.  But every Sunday, his heart filled

with shame, he hears the same soft phrase:
You’re taking care of your brother?  And each time he says

yes. Each time he says yes: It’s just, he’s working
today, Mamá, he’s working hard,  he’s making

good money. Sundays pass. His mother hears
of girlfriends, raises, and a new used car, tears

in her eyes as her oldest recounts it all.  But mostly
he works. It’s been two years of long days he

spends working hard enough to send back home
what two good sons should send back home,

and when it’s time for him to fall, he’s facing
not down but up, away from what is racing

up to meet him, and into a song that lifts him
not high, not far, but back to the twoness of them.

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