I break branches and gather bramble
that binds the ties of the railroad tracks,
unpaid work while I am out of work, no demand
for window sashes to make of pine and fir, my breath
slick in the cold weather flying like birds from my chest.
I’ll go back to work, they project, but do not promise,
in the spring, after the winter the plant stands idle.
Ice argues with water in the slush pocket
near the rails, one winning in the sun,
one winning in the darkness.
Hush takes up the enormous share of time
this winter morn, wispy clouds light brushstrokes
appearing as if intentional to un-monotonize the sky.
Mud cakes boot bottoms, a heaviness
I like, a means to shuffle through wee ponds
and stay sturdy, as if a weighted tare
to gain passage, the lead a jockey adds to ride.
I grunt, and grunt work it is,
and I am happy in this self-caused haze of moisture
from my more frequent puffs, thinking of eggs
turned with toast in the pan, butter liquefying
into transparent bubbles that snap,
the clang of the pan in the sink after sliding the eggs
onto a plate, the ting of the tines of the fork.
Metal—I did not know until out of a job
with wood how much I loved metal,
the rails, the zipper, the pans, the utensils,
the forging process of molds and heat
rather than saw, plane, rasp, and knife.
I light the branches and leafless bramble
and nurse the stutter and lurch of the flame
until like a frozen lake at sunset the entire surface
burns the color of a molten metal pouring from a hod.
I imagine spring, my muscles taut,
my face blank, expressions frozen.
Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, spending the seasons dodging fires, floods, earth-shaking, and all the other scrambling life-initiatives. He has contributed to Heartwood, Tiny Seeds Journal, and The Muleskinner Journal.