[37] Carbon Man, Vern Fein

Roped into a summer job
as a railroad yard clerk
before college when novels, poetry
took my time.

Real fear to work with real men,
underscored my first day
when an engineer screamed at me—
a carload of Lincoln-Continentals
decapitated, routed on the wrong track,
the previous clerk’s mistake.

Relieved until the Boss said,
“Watch out kid!
At night when you’re walking
between the cars recording numbers.
Old Ralph decapitated,
a piece of board sticking out.”

Covered vacations by the regulars,
switched jobs every two weeks
until early August,
spent a month as a carbon man.

After forty years, Joe got sick.
extra time off.
The Boss said, “It’s your job now, kid.
Easy. Insert one of three carbon sheets
into piggyback lading bills—
three, five, seven.
That’s all you do all day, what Joe did all day.
For forty years.”

What is Joe like?
“Doesn’t talk much, just does his job.
Loves his wife, beer, the Cubs in that order.
No kids,” said the Boss.

I developed a system for variety,
an hour of threes,
hour of fives,
hour of sevens.
Repeat. Repeat.
Sometimes in reverse order.

Time crawled through August.
Joe came back. Thanked me.
“How’d you like my job?”
I couldn’t ask,
How can you stuff carbons for forty years—
not run screaming toward the tracks?

Soon in college, I read Hamlet.
To be or not to be?
A carbon man.
I made my choice.
Realized my luck.
I am sorry men still stuff.

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