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Overtime | Poem by Jorge Evans

I love listening to shop talk, to overhear people talking about their work. Their speech is not only rich with the colorful names of tools and processes, but it’s also full of resignation. A job is, after all, a job. Here’s a poem by Jorge Evans of Minnesota, who’s done some hard work.




Fair season and we’re tent pitching

on holy grounds in central Illinois,

busting through pavement with jack hammers,

driving home a stake that will be pulled two months

from now. One of us holds, the other presses

down, grease shooting between cracks

in the old hammer’s worn shell

to our hands and faces—one slip and we’ve

lost our toes. I’m from the warehouse,

not the tent crew. I haven’t ridden around

in tent haulers across the nation

popping tents here and there, but for this,

the state fair, the warehousers are let out

to feel important. Around us a silvered city

has risen, white vinyl tents at full mast

and clean for the first time in a year. It’s August.

It’s the summer’s dogged days when humidity

doesn’t break until midnight, an hour after

the fair’s closed down. We’re piled on back

of a flatbed with our tools, our tiredness.

We’re a monster understood best

by Midwesterners, devouring parking lots

and fields, our teeth stained by cigarette

and chew, some of us not old enough, some

too old. All of us here for the overtime.


American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Jorge Evans. Reprinted from the South Dakota Review, Vol. 48, no. 2, Summer 2010, by permission of Jorge Evans and the publisher. Introduction copyright ©2011 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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