Turning Point




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Sample Poems by Robert Collins


always smoked his lunch
and strove to please the Man.
Though he'd mastered every job
in Bread and Buns, could clean
and reassemble all of the machines
and run them smoothly, the Blue
Caps smelled his fear and kept him
in his place. His light skin pocked
with freckles, a boyish man, Henry
rarely spoke above a whisper;
Henry never had a chance.

Relief Man

My last summer at the bakery
I was named the long relief man,
(no more mopping up for me),
capable of running each machine,

racking pans or catching them,
whatever challenge came my way.
While it didn't take me long to warm
up in the heat the ovens exuded,

every day I came in several hours
later than the starters on shift two
and gave them breaks and lunches,
moving from position to position.

By then I sported facial hair
and kept a tattered paperback
of Armies of the Night stuffed
in the rear pocket of my work

pants. As if I were actually able
to read anywhere on the job,
one Blue Cap ordered me to leave
the book in my locker and retrieve

it when I went on break or lunch.
Apparently reading was subversive
as was the mustache I now wore.
All summer I worked twelve-on,

twelve-off, dreamt I was in a jam
I'd never work my way out of without
allowing major damage, and missed
Woodstock. My last day on the job

I went sixteen, by the end of twelve
my left leg numb all the way up to my knee
thanks to a high-school cartilage tear.
Though I'd proven myself good enough

to be guaranteed a contract years before,
(even the Skipper had praised me),
I finished my stint as long relief man
without a single win or save all season.

Drinking with the Second Shift

Four years and they only asked me once
toward the end of my sentence to grab
a beer when we finished our shift at dawn

at a seedy tavern I'd never noticed before
just a few blocks away from the bakery.
It was a sign that they'd accepted me at last

and felt I might be trusted-hardly a major
concession since we wouldn't be working
side by side much longer. As the guy who ran

the divider shook a flurry of salt into a glass
of draft he'd ordered to put a head on it,
we jabbered about everything and nothing-

baseball, bread and buns, and Blue Caps.
They asked about the year ahead at school,
my last if all went well, (little did I know

how close I'd come to failing), urging me
again to hit the books and earn my sheepskin
as if they shared in my success. Strange as

it might've seemed drinking beer at dawn,
(the first of many occasions), I was shocked
and immediately saddened for reasons

I couldn't explain as our table got up to go
and a well dressed businessman, on his way
to the office to dial his first client, swept
into the joint without saying a word to the man
behind the bar, a row of trembling doubles
of the bitter vodka he guzzled already poured.