Seven Work Poems – Ernie Brill. Art – Robert Frede Kenter


30 years
in the slaughterhouse
assembly line
30-55 cattle an hour
moving at an uninterrupted rate
hit over head with sledgehammer until
1950 then bullets were used
skinned steer
pulling 200 pound hides
off each carcass
cleaned it
cut cow in two
carried away
buckets full of guts
pressure to get job done
at certain pace
strictly observed
breaks 15 min am 10 min pm
half hour lunch
optimum no. 400 a day
bosses worked over
them pushing

first chest pain 1975
condition not improving
in 1976 hospitalized x7
final diagnosis: congestive heart
failure resulting in expiration
this fall

flesh unto flesh
(he was Catholic)
and there’s more than one way
to skin a cat

Math Class

Figure at the minimum
I steer every two minutes
30 steers an hour
pulling 200-pound hides off each

48,000 pounds of hide off each day
240,000 pounds of hide a week
12 million pounds of hides a year

Working over 30 years
That’s 360 million pounds of a year
One guy
Two hands
Orange and blue /and green horizontal cropped excerpt of original full image "Industrial Orange -- a Chemical Spill", a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2023. Excerpt a cross between a totemic animal and peeling paint from an orange wall, created by hand.

The Shapes Of  Minnie Evans

Her room’s a white square.

Her bed’s a white rectangle.

Her dialysis silver cylinders, loops.

Her brown face a pained oval.

Her smile a red semicircle.

Round the circle of her poised family

Round the doctors’ rounds outside the room, mum.

Round were her buckets in endless hotels

Of cylindrical mops, deep square carts;

Round the disinfecting bubbles in buckets,

Hexagonal the bubbles’ carbon tetrachloride

(They showed her an organic chemistry book)

That formed and deformed her cancerous kidneys.

Round is her body under the fresh sheets;

Round the dark red bottle under her bed.

Yet what shape forms in the eyes of her son

Who stares at the 9pm harvest moon?

What shape her daughter fluffing her pillows?

What shape her goodnight-to-her-grandchildren voice:

“Be good. You all come back and see me soon now.”
Industrial Orange -- a Chemical Spill, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (2023). Garish orange, greens, yellows, dark red like a chemical spill, or a view of a targeted landscape from the air.


Elderly man
Silvery hair
Modest blue serge suit
Leans forward anxiously
Holding his left arm with care
He has severe arthritis
And the Symphony told him
Consider retirement
At 61 he only knows
The violin
The Musician’s Union referred him
Here he wants to hear
Possibilities and options
Of job retraining
He’s willing to work
His handshake’s gentle, full
Of fingers, like lonely iron
His smile’s warm and waiting
Like the soft curious scrutiny
Of an unsure bluebird

Printer’s  Helper

As printer-proof reader daily exposure

To one or more of the following substances:

Lampblack, paper dust, resins, benzene, talcums,

Other ink fumes indigenous to field

Talcum powders daily used to dry proofs

Constant condition of poor ventilation

Open pots of lead melting, paper dust

Constantly in air stuck to clothing

Presence of resins increased dust amounts

“Everything was covered with it – from machines

To employees to the final product

Everything that had to do with the company.”

Current diagnosis: cancer: throat, left lung.
Industrial Orange -- a Chemical Spill, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (2023). Garish orange, greens, yellows, dark red like a chemical spill, or a view of a targeted landscape from the air.

The Ballad of El Dorado Town

It started out a sleepy cattle town
with a waterhole in the middle of Main Street
until that fateful day when Arlen Brown
found a silver nugget at his feet


Morgan Mines and Silver brought progress to the town
money to burn, new schools to learn,
and the railroad coming ‘round
the town shone brightly as we dug day and nightly
in beautiful El Dorado town

Sandy sold his farm, so did Mike and Zeke
Banker Dan says eleven farms were sold within the week
Bought by an Eastern man with a gold watch chain
Morgan from Chicago was his name
Oh they sank shafts so fast and struck up timbers too
Some folks wondered would it last and would it do
Asking Morgan, “Think them logs will hold?”
He nodded dreaming past them, “Where there’s silver, there’s often gold…”


It happened quick like the flick of a candle wick
One twilight an explosion shook the depths;
Mine Seven timber’s gave a hundred men a grave
Laying down beneath the shining silver

Women ran from doors and screamed from windows
Wondering which one was a widow,
Waiting for the cage with their man to rise
Their twilight hearts a-pouring from their eyes

Now Morgan gently spoke to the bereaved
“I’d give the world had these men been saved,
Then he ordered up the coffins and the wreaths
And placed a silver nugget on each grave.

El Dorado Silver brought progress to the town
Money to burn, new schools to learn and the railroad comin’ round
The town shone brightly and we dug day and nightly
In beautiful El Dorado town.

The  Work  Poets (And Now For A Brief Non-Commercial)

I do not understand

Why they are not in most anthologies

Rukeyser, McGrath, Patchen, Fearing,

Replansky, Levertov, LeSuer,

Sterling A. Brown, Frank Marshall Davis,

John Beecher, and many new ones – Tillie Olsen,

Janice Mirikitani, Pedro Pietri, Benjamin Sáenz

What did they do to achieve

Such glaring invisibility?
Author photo of Ernie Brill by Robert Frede Kenter -- yellow sepia - Ernie standing in a yard leather jacket, black pants, raising his hand to his face, standing in front of an old wooden house, with a wheel spoke ornament at his right, somewhere upstate NY.

Ernie Brill writes fiction and poetry about everyday people, and worked a variety of jobs in hospitals, as a drug counsellor in NYC, and as a high school teacher in inner-city schools in Massachusetts. His collection of stories, “I Looked Over Jordan and Other Stories” (South End Press) explores race and class among hospital workers. The actress Ruby Dee purchased, adapted, and performed the story, “Crazy Hattie Enters  Ice Age” for her and her husband’s PBS TV series “With Ruby and Ossie.” Brill won a New York State Council For The Arts Fiction Grant. He received his BA and MA in English from San Francisco State College. Brill has published widely fiction, poetry and essays in the US and Canada, including the chapbook Project Kids (Ice Floe Press, 1993), River Styx, Other Voices, Z, U. of Minnesota, etc.). Favorite writers include Virginia Woolf, Richard Wright, Mahmoud Darwish, Hyseoon Kim,  Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling A. Brown, Pedro Pietri, Pablo Neruda.

Author photo of Robert Frede Kenter sitting against a wall of hoarding peeling posters, title of the image Cage 292 (c) R. Frede Kenter.

Art: Industrial Orange — a Chemical Spill, a visual poem by Robert Frede Kenter (c) 2023. Twitter: @frede_kenter, IG: @r.f.k.vispocityshuffle. Robert Frede Kenter is the publisher/EIC of Ice Floe Press, a widely published writer & visual artist living in Toronto, Canada.

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