“The father had been wise to show them before his death that work is a treasure.”
— Jean de la Fontaine, Le Laboureur et ses Enfants
Next door, men cut off the trees’ hands. Their machines hum
as they work. A woman drags a line of children two-by-two
straining under the weight of giggling bodies.
People say — This is how the world works.
At the gym, the manager watches someone else
buff an already spotless floor.
My father told me to do what I loved to do — one third of my life
will be work. Every day, he arrived home ashen,
hiked the basement stairs broken by long pauses.
I lick a sympathy card shut, drop it in a blue box
and the cows are knee-deep eating green.
I give an A, a B- , a C+. This, the sum
of our work, but not why —
the men pile lifeless branches into the truck bed.
I think I hear them singing.
A woman drags a hose to water the leaves along the wall,
leaves no one will see, under a highway behind a hotel gate.
I watch her from my treadmill through a glass wall.
Emily Mohn-Slate’s recent poems are forthcoming or have appeared in Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, DIALOGIST, Poet Lore, The Adroit Journal, and elsewhere. She was runner-up for the 2014 Indiana Review Poetry Prize. She holds an MFA from Bennington College, and teaches writing at Chatham University and Carnegie Mellon University