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Smoke Break with the J & R Roofing Co.

Clay Matthews

A turning of the screw and across
the plywood I splay myself

where the sun walks down and lays
her head on my shoulder.

Yes, I’m imagining origin
in the feminine. But it gets lonely

on the rooftop and so why not
love the reflection in the tar bucket

as if it were my own, or better
yet, the face of some girl

in the window of a pick-up
passing by. Three out of four times

when I look at a stranger
I imagine one of my lives

in an alternate reality, where
I work in a sweater factory

and steal wool, and at night
we eat popcorn, watch old movies,

and knit ourselves together
in an ever-expanding white blanket.

Three out of four times
I look at the sun head on I see

spots in the distance,
and once followed them

until I blinked again
and they had disappeared,

and I was under an overpass
with a terrible cough and roof shingle

in my hand. Labor makes the soul
ache, and it’s the aching

that keeps me moving.
Once when the aching was gone

I felt a pang in its absence.
And so black tar. And so mop buckets.

In a day, a skeleton. In a week,
shelter. A roof for somebody

to call their own. Something held tight
over their heads as one day

they’ll open a window and look out,
and feel strange and comfortable

in this the life they dare not call their own.

Clay Matthews

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