Midnight Crossing the Picket Line
Pittsburgh. Midnight. The van driver has
no neck, wears sunglasses; his shaved head
grazes the headliner with each pothole,
each storm drain, each cross street, in a
winding route from an old & tired, third-rate
hotel to an old & tired, third-rate factory.
So little detail available through blacked-out
windows, the windshield becomes a movie
screen: frayed neighborhoods, wary clusters
engaged in street-corner commerce, the
odd bodega behind a scissor-grill & pull-down,
corrugated steel shutter, rusty & padlocked.
Mixed residential zoning cedes to industrial,
railroad tracks crisscross the streets, unfold
like a fan into a hundred sidings, where stone
from the quarries & chemicals mated from the
periodic table & wood from a million downed
trees trade places with a flow of finished goods.
Slow, gentle drift to the curb. Stop. Lights out.
Motionless. A soft voice from the driver’s seat,
Keep quiet. Keep your eyes straight ahead.
Pull your collars up & your hats down. He has
not turned, stares straight ahead. Keep quiet.
Do not engage. Headlights. We round a corner.
Dim lights overhead. Lanterns & flashlights
turn in our direction. Shadows bent over
burn barrels straighten & turn to look at us.
The van moves slowly as do the dark figures on
the ground until they can thump the sides of
the vehicle & blister our birth & our mothers.
Placards swat the roof, kicks land on the tailgate
& back bumper. Then only the shouts. Then only
the hum of the tires on the asphalt leading to
a lighted, heavily guarded office. All over, with
less drama, less pain than anticipated. Crossing
the picket line is a gamble, a bet sometimes won.
© Eugene Stevenson
Eugene Stevenson is the son of immigrants, the father of expatriates. His poems have appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Angel City Review, DASH Literary Journal, Dime Show Review, Gravel Literary Magazine, The Hudson Review, Icarus, October Hill Magazine, The Poet Magazine, South Florida Poetry Journal, Swamp Ape Review, & Tipton Poetry Journal.