David Salner

Blue Morning

Inspired by Blue Morning, George Bellows 1909 painting

of workers on the excavation of Pennsylvania Station.


Back arched

into a khaki brush stroke,

he stands upon a hunk of stone

and lifts a 4-lb sledge

into blue morning light.

By lunch, blow after blow,

he must sting deep enough

into the age-hard quartz

to tamp a charge.

Then he will blow this rock

into a breath of glittering

smithereens, a veil of grit

through which the sun

will flare on sweat,

will wince through tears.




Sweat brightens his ribs. The heat,

the light—shifting, dizzying—

reflects off the flats and angles of the stone.

He feels the light burn through the mist.


He watches the hammer rise

like it was rigged that way,

to glide like an ascending load

upon a hiss and rush of cables,

a steady reeling in of yesterday

until the present moment snugs

against the gib, then the release,

the rapid fall of everything

into tomorrow, the full weight

of the hours plunging down.


He is the work, the raining down of it

upon the rock, he is the constant flow,

the up and down, the blood that powers it,

he is the rhythm of the hammer blow.


They holler insults, sing, toss off their shirts,

and feel the morning light on skin.

He is the gang he works with.


He is the light

on this blue morning.

He is the sweat.

He is the work he does.

He is the life he leads.

He is this man, standing upon a rock

he will destroy.


gave us the
ultimatum when she
was thirteen: No more tree.
I’d already snapped plastic branches
together and lifted the lid off the box of
ornaments—all that reflective, crushable
metal. But the poor tree, not lifeless
although totally plastic, had lived with us
in all our apartments, from Phoenix and Salt Lake
City to this town in Maryland, interchangeable towns.
For years, we’d placed presents under the gaze
of our nomadic angel, under branches, interchangeable also.
But now: giving presents is ok, she said, good will is ok,
but atheists shouldn’t have a tree. I could have argued the
philosophical niceties relating to that poor
untinseled thing—but that would be hedging

an ultimatum. Ok, I said:

and no tree.

David Salner’s writing appears in upcoming issues of North American Review, Atlanta Review, River Styx, Magma, Tupelo Quarterly, Salmagundi. His second book is Working Here (Rooster Hill Press, 2010). He worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, steelworker, general laborer.



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