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Maintenance Engineer Part Time

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after the long day’s hustle, Papa returned

home waving fistfuls of Tootsie Rolls, wolfed down

his supper, changed from his suit into his long-sleeved

gray coveralls or blue cotton smock and slid out of

silky stockings and Italian leather loafers into white

cotton socks and well-scuffed All-American work shoes

for his night shift scrubbing and waxing corporation floors

 

we missed his loud full laughter

around the television and what company we had

wasn’t as interesting as the visitors

who came through when he hung around home

but we trusted Papa was doing his best

to become “healthy, wealthy and wise”

without shame over shameful wages—enough

indian head nickels to finance a scheme

 

(the men he worked graveyard with

always became buddies

and no matter whose car broke down,

there was always a ride to or from home

or a spot until pay day)

 

one night Mama had an emergency. she

bundled us into a cab and took us down to

the building and knocked on the glass until

Papa opened the door. he carried us inside where,

in jammies, robes, and slippers, we

curled up in blankets on a mahogany desk

in that giant office.  then we watched Papa run

the long dustbroom across the black-and-white

squares of linoleum, our lids drooping to

a close as he rolled in a giant pail of

hot sudsy water and began to sling the

industrial mop, singing low Old Man River

 

at sunrise, we woke as he deposited us, one

child to a shoulder, onto the back seat

of the Pontiac for our dreamlike journey home

but first stop—sinkers, hot chocolate and smiles

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Source:  Bathwater Wine, published by Black Sparrow Books (1998)

Award-winning poet, essayist and fiction writer Wanda Coleman was born and raised in Watts. She’s written 15 books of poetry and fiction.

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Five Poems the Next Mayor Should Read

These poems by some of L.A.’s finest poets are intended to help Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti look closely at our city and listen with care to its diverse voices, from janitors to sidewalk fruit sellers to donut shop insomniacs. They are also an antidote to the platitudes of the campaign trail, and a reminder that the best political speech—and acts—can tap into people’s deepest emotions and aspirations.

 

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