Three Poems by Billy Palmer

Newly Dead

(Atlanta Men’s Sobriety and Spirituality Workshop)

Day 1

A winding trail of weathered walkers, two and three men wide is
a steady train billowing tobacco smoke
and deep age-lined voices.

In the linoleum meeting hall,
yellowed nicotine fingers clutch
raspy Styrofoam cups.
White beards, veteran vests,
circles of metal folding chairs.

In those pockets of shared space,
of muted tones and murmured meaning,
men breathe out cool, cool wisdom
          with that cedar box smell of truth.

Tearful beards are pressed against calloused palms.

A long-haired and whiskered man
whispers to the crowded room,
We must gently hold
          this fading moment.

Day 2

Georgia rain,
Muddy red clay stuck to the bottom of toothy boots,
Cigarette butts floating in steadily filling coffee cans,
          Drowsy conversation below the cabin overhang.

But the day is not wasted,
says a man with tree root feet.
          We may still name our own confusion.

Day 3

Something has happened here...
Breakfast is slow-cooling grits and cafeteria eggs.
Hands clasp and squeeze hopeful farewells.

Something has happened here.
And we must hold onto it,
says a man with round glasses and a cane.
          With the reverence for the newly dead.

Dirty South

We called him Dirty, short for Dirty South.
In the light fixture factory, he was our fastest riveter.
And in his laughing eyes and white teeth,
were the hiss and click of the rivet gun,
the one whose gray casing would threaten to explode.
He said he liked the danger, being a work release man.
With work release boots and a work release smile.

When the horn blared, he'd place another aluminum body on the rolling line.
Tender around the knife edges. Slap on the inspection stickers.
Drop screws into the pre-drills and tighten down the ballasts.
Slide it down and do it again.

We called him Dirty, short for Dirty South.
He'd crack his bony knuckles,
          slap our backs,
                    and we'd all get back to work again.

My Sister is a Welder

My sister is a welder.
She fuses metal with blue veins of electricity,
with wild neon hairs.
She smells like grease and pocket change.

My sister drinks red wine when she’s sad,
breaks glass on the wooden floor.
She says her mind isn’t numb when she works;
It’s free to roam, to breathe, to grieve.
To visit our cousin who died from the same loss as she—
Whose hair was charcoal dust,
Whose coffin was a thousand pounds.

My sister is a welder.
She bends fire with her thick fingers.
The metal flows,
forms glowing islands on the warehouse floor.

My sister is a welder.
She remembers to choose her own life
over the echoes of others.

Billy_PalmerBilly Palmer currently studies psychology at the University of Florida in Gainesville, where he was born and raised. In the past, he has worked as a manufacturing worker, festival fire keeper, windows and door replacement apprentice, and library page. He lives with his wife, two cats, and seven chickens.