Poetry and Arts

Poetry by Edward Hirsch

That’s the Job
That’s the job, he said,
shrugging his shoulders
and running his hand
through his hair, like Dante,
or a spider
that knows its web,
That’s just the job,
he repeated stubbornly
whenever I complained
about working the night shift
in hundred-degree heat,
or hauling my ass
over the hump
for a foul-mouthed dispatcher
yelling at us
over a loudspeaker,
or riding the cab
of an iron dungeon
creeping over bumpy rails
to a steel mill
rising out of the smog
in Joliet or Calumet City
where we headed
to track down
a few hundred giants
in chains clanking together
on rusty wheels
for dragging home
and uncoupling
at the clearing yard
loaded with empty
freight cars
waiting to be loaded
with more freight,
because that’s the job.

Windber Field
I don’t know why
I thought it was a good idea
to bring Wilfred Owen’s poem
on the colliery disaster of 1918
to that tiny high school class
in western Pennsylvania,
but soon they were writing
about smokeless coal
and black seams
in the ground, the terror
of firedamp, the Rolling Mill
Mine Disaster in Johnstown,
the closing of Windber Field,
the memory of standing
in a wide ring
around a mine shaft
to watch a man emerge
from the earth
like a god, a father
in an open cage
sailing across the sky.

Night Class in Daisytown
I was failing
my night class
for the eleven parents
of my students
in the Conemaugh Valley
when I mentioned
as if by accident–
or was it desperation?–
the Pitman Poet of Percy Main,
who worked the mines
in Northumberland
and wrote songs and
carols for the coalfields
and before long
I was standing there
with a piece of fresh chalk
collecting memories
about coal in Cambria County,
the pickaxe and the lantern
hanging by the front door
the father-in-law
who woke up in the dark
and worked all day in the dark
and slept with a nightlight,
the mother who whispered
about blackdamp, the brother
who got lost for twenty-four hours
in the underworld
and then found a steel cable
glinting in a mine shaft
and pulled himself
into the light.

Poems are from Stranger by Night (Alfred A. Knopf, 2020). Reprinted with permission. Edward Hirsch, a MacArthur Fellow, has written many books of poetry including Gabriel: A Poem, (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014) which was nominated for the National Book Award. He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. He is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.