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“Songs of the Glue Machines is part meditation, part lamentation, part gut-wrenching cry for a lost segment of humanity. Packing words drenched in sweat and blasted with furnace fury, Belardes’ poems transform once invisible lives into true blood & bone beauty. Hard-worn and hopeless factory workers are elevated to saintly status.” —RICH FERGUSON author of 8th & Agony: Poems

“…stories of those stuck behind factory walls who we often ignore or pretend not to see. They are songs sung by machines that breathe pink glue, reminding us we all bleed the same color blood, connected by roads paved by those with calloused hands seeking dreams and living nightmares. They are poems to be carried on our backs.” —TAMMY FOSTER BREWER author of No Glass Allowed: Poems

“Belardes captures the beauty in the mundane, the light in the dank darkness of that hard factory floor. His poetry sings of the industrial nightmare America tries so hard to ignore. But, it’s there, and we are reminded by the power of Glue Machines. Read and see.” —BRENDA KNIGHT author of Women of the Beat Generation

“As a former factory worker (descended from two generations of factory workers), Belardes’ collection brings back the things I often try to forget, whether it’s the battle of blue versus white collars, constant dangers and repetitions, or the interchangeable workers, waste in the name of

efficiency, and twisted metal. The thing about factory work is that it’s not just a job; it’s an entire world, and Belardes has captured that world in Songs of the Glue Machines.” —ROBERT LEE BREWER Writer’s Digest editor and author of Solving the World’s Problems: Poems

“The intoxicating Glue Machines pulls the reader into a storied landscape like no other, one both familiar in the American psyche and yet nearly forgotten in an outsourced 21st century expatriation of the American Dream. Evoking the muscled metaphorical muses of working class poetry collections like B.H. Fairchild’s The Art of the Lathe and Gary Snyder’s Turtle Island, Belardes similarly makes a spellbinding song out of the gritty everyday—and transforms the stories of the machine into voices of a necessary, and not yet forgotten, language common to us all: we, the people who have invented, transformed, and worked with the raw materials of our modest lives to make beauty out of the necessary things with our rough hands.” —RUTH NOLAN editor of No Place for a Puritan: The Literature of California’s Deserts; feature writer, KCET Artbound

Nicholas Belardes’ Songs of the Glue Machines drives hard across a sometimes harsh, sometimes sublime landscape of memory. Belardes writes in a kind of willful lyricism, giving us poems that are achingly present, insistently melodic and fiercely observant. They won’t let you go. —JULIA BLOCH author of Letters to Kelly Clarkson: Poems

Songs of the

Glue Machines Poems by

Nicholas Belardes

Š2013 Nicholas Belardes

All rights reserved. No part of this book can be reproduced without the express written permission of the author, except in the case of written reviews.

ISBN 978-1-929878-41-3

First edition

PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733

Printed in the United States of America


Health begins its decay on the factory floor




I would like to thank the following people who contributed to the funding of this project: Rachel Reynolds, Jane Hawley, Krista Weaver, Nicole Biggs, Bonnie Hearn Hill, Larry Hill, Andra Watkins, Kayla Marie Williams, Joanne Elliot, Doug Bremner, Fernando Chavez, Janice Fulton, Deloris Boykin, Melinda Hill, Jeanette Richardson-Parks, Elisabeth Kinsey, Melinda Carroll, Karen Carter, Jody Head, Bonita Jones Knott, Elizabeth Collins, Erin Alvarez, Rich Ferguson, Ernie Lewis, Greg Goodsell, Samuel Duarte, Janice Bondurant, Raya Joseph, Suellen Carlisle, Joseph Rodriquez, Mikee Lee, Chris Sapien, Michael Jasso, Daniel Loera, Chris and Lulu Ulloa, Alex Mitts, Ted McCagg, Jack Brigham, Nancy Edwards, Maria Mercado, Megan DiLullo, Raheela McGhie, Michael Medrano, Maria Mercado, Sofia Reyes, Zachary Smith, Stephanie and Oscar Arellano, Patty Wonderly, Veronica Madrigal, Janet Murphy, Shannon Choate, Rickey Bird, Nicholas Towasser, Nick Stockman, Emma Dashtipour, Mary Redecopp, Phillip and Terry Derouchie, Gena Moore, Dana Cutler, Chad Plummer, Whitney Ellen Powell, Gena Moore, Leah Haymond, Danielle Velling, Cathleen Warren, Missy Wiggins, Patricia Henson, Lee Herrick, Larry Lawfer, Kimberly Navarro, Lizz Tonoco, Sara Hogg, Shirley Brewer and several generous Anonymous Donors. Songs of the Glue Machines covers the few short years of the late 1980s and early 1990s when I worked in factories


and as a welder’s helper. Those days felt like they would never end—working long hot and cold seasons with no finality in sight. Only the dreams of becoming a hopeful student and writer kept my sanity glued together (along with becoming a young parent during that time). Some days when I think back to that time, those haunting years seem forever ago: nightmarish, dark, filled with the sounds of machinery and echoes of dripping water. Other days feel like yesterday when I was feeding stacks of paperboard into a glue machine, winding fiberglass strands into a spinning cutter, or watching glass jugs burst as I struggled with fitting them into a milk factory bottle washer. I will never again regain the exuberance of my young factory days, though I made an attempt within these pages to recapture the vitality within the universal struggle of endless daily physical labor. Important to this project are the people within the words. Working class poetry, for me, is less about machines and grueling work, and more about the people who do the jobs that most people would never think to slave over. Why do we do such work? So Mundy could put food on the table. So I could get health insurance for a pregnant wife. So Steve could buy a car or Rueben could pay rent. Others have darker reasons‌to fuel drug habits, party or buy illegal weaponry to sell for big profits. Such jobs, with their grueling hours and rampant drug use among workers, kill the dreams of many, or like me, provided fuel, a reason to continue imagining a


better life. Either way, I thank the people I worked with, for their stories intertwined with mine tell a much truer picture of American factory life. I also thank Lummox Press. Raindog (RD Armstrong) has a vision of seeing many experimental poetry projects make it to print. While working class poetry is not experimental, the publishing process through fundraising efforts for this project was. Thanks especially to Tim Z. Hernandez for pouring over an early draft of the manuscript. His advice regarding the “worker voice” is what truly transformed this body of poems. Thank you Jane Hawley and Melinda Carroll for looking over the manuscript, as well as all of the people who have been listening to me read selections over the past year or so. Thank you to everyone at the Random Writers Workshop who had their critical eyes on a few selected poems. And finally, thanks to homie, poet, Michael Medrano (“In the canal!”) for his words of wisdom, who along with other Fresno poets (Bryan Medina, Marisol Baca, Sergio Valencia, Joseph Rios, Andre Yang and Lee Herrick), have inspired me throughout my revisions.



Foreword This | Michael Medrano | x I. I Will Never Escape Factory Row | 2 Blue Collar Anatomy | 6 Boxes Fold Like Butterfly Wings | 11 Benny’s Descent | 16 Are We the Union Boss? | 18 Forgotten Verses | 21 The Mistrust of Hector’s Lover | 23 Manholes and Late Night Roads | 26 Exploded Fingers | 27 Snakes and Owls | 29 Benny’s Demise | 32 Quotas | 38 Water Bottle | 39 George Garcia vs. the Leviathan | 43 Epistle of Nicholas | 50


II. The Final Filament Baal and His Razor Blade Wheels | 54 An Assassin Among Us | 59 Fiberglass Train | 62 Fuse Box | 63 Paul’s Polaroids | 64 Ferris Wheel | 68 Wives | 70 Bob | 71 Men as Seeds | 73 Day Off to Become a Man | 76 Pig Cannon | 78 Gee Whiz | 82 Time to Go Flying | 85 Flipping the Buzzard | 88 Working Along Factory Lines | 90 Songs of the Glue Machines | 93 Filament | 95 About the Author | 99


Foreword This These are factory poems. Plain and simple. Worker songs for the glue machine, for that stretch of valley road mistaken for an eyesore, where towns disguised as encampments for railroad workers, living quarters for the heart and soul of that once arid wasteland, (still arid, as I cringe at the thought of blistering summers of San Joaquin, even in the early spring of March) belongs to those who till the land, who bang and sweat in crowded factories cradling the 99, the infamous Highway 99, where even the thought of that asphalt spine cracks the thread of memory into a million pieces, each piece belonging to worker hands, holy in the sound that is produced in the ear, rumble, rumble, talk to me, talk to me, music that flows from Belardes’s pen, stories begging for a place on the page. Blank space, and poems take shape, like factory nugget charms, like the work produced in a Miles Davis bitch session, Belardes is all poetry all the time. You can hear him work, these poems, all sweat and stories, images stacked on top of the other, valves, veins, rubber gaskets, you swear there’s a chopped up finger in there somewhere, and in between that space, that tiny spear of light, there is a story, in fact there are multiple stories, many of them told along conveyer belts, in hair nets and rubber boots, on the clock, off the clock, before the clock, off the record, and even in the middle of a union squabble, something human about these people, something that makes you want to shake your head, and close your eyes, and think about your hard workin’ ways, even if you ain’t got none, if you’re lazy these poems will pull you from your Playstation miseries, will help you shake the doldrums from your tired face, will make you grow twice as large and half as dirty, will make you a x

better brothermothersisterlover, the songs from the glue machines sing out in choruses with names like George and Bob and Jesse, and Mundy, human resource workers in plain clothes, and plainer faces, upper management with Terminator degrees and signed Stratocasters hung on the walls of their oversized offices, nothing to do but to twiddle their thumbs, oh, but to put those suits on the factory floor, in the heart of their underpaid workforce, to lean in and hear the churn of the gears, to listen to an entire floor pulsate with the rhythm of the pound and grind and whistle, to risk the body for seven-fifty an hour, I once knew a man who spent half of his check on the rent and with the other half he bought Jimi Hendrix cassettes, because he lived cheaply, because he could afford it, because he didn’t want to miss out on what it would mean to wind down in the privacy of his studio apartment, a short block from the glue factory, you know the one: windows taped with tin-foil to block out the sun, crushed beer cans on the doorstep next to the empty cat dish, he lived alone and hummed a workerman’s blues, a song of the glue machine for the factory workers he grew to know. Michael Medrano 3/27/13


I. I Will Never Escape

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Factory Row I’m on factory row now. District Boulevard by the railroad tracks. Manville Forest Products. Giant rolls of paperboard from pulp mills, printed on, chopped, so workers can feed stacks into glue machines. Two years ago I was in high school, not paying attention. Opening newspapers in classrooms. Taking English, thinking about writing. Kicking metal trashcans along Geneva Avenue. Home with Mom and Dad. Pushing man-powered lawnmowers. Got a couple bucks a week in quarters, for Asteroids, Defender arcade games. Gonna get the high score! Playing Jimmy Green at Snow-White Burger. He’s one of the surf kids, soon to be punk kids, on South Chester Avenue, down by the railroad tracks where one day I hear the smash as train crushes car. “They lookin’ for a hand on the track,” Pedro says as detectives walk the rails. Pedro rides his bike through the sky, jumps dirt hills over canyons of houses. Every day I woke to a generation addicted to MTV. My dead generation. The dead generation. But not now, not today. The special day. The first day. Like the first day of school. Dorothy from Human Resources. Tall, plain, pale, maybe once a fair-freckled girl, takes a group of us homeboy bitches for a walk into the pink glue city. Into sci-fi. Slaves of the future.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

She points through skywalk windows toward groups of machines powered by electricity, green pulley belts. The factory floor, a sea of metal. —twisted piles of wreckage. —so many parts, like guts. Metal beams connect to crossworks of pipes. Steel frameworks uphold spinning rollers. These glue machine gears are faster than jet engines. We watch from a windowed walkway to where I’ll soon be on the factory floor, looking to fresh recruits off dirty streets, peering at the rest of us blue shirts, where operators and assistants earn button-up blue collars with nametags like Reuben, Jay and Mundy. A few days later I’m curly, brown-haired boy of nineteen in T-shirt, jeans, picking up stacks of paperboard in day one of my factory life. I drop stacks of razor-sharp cartons, slice my hands, spill messes of brown paperboard onto the floor; can’t figure out how to fan out the edges, so suction can pluck, shoot them along L-shaped machines, glue machines, toward the packer, old Mary, who grabs stacks from rollers. She counts boxes all day long by fives: 5-10-15-20-25-30. Counts twelve hours a day, yesterday, the day before, tomorrow, for the past twenty years, so that all I think is, old Mary got nothing going on in her life but counting cats in her front yard, counting birds in the sky. Counting rows of powerlines, counting passing cars, counting —3—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

cereal boxes in grocery stores, dishes in the sink she wont wash cause she’s too tired from her shift in the heat of the factory, where she counts her life away, stack after stack, shoving little boxes into bigger boxes, only breaking for a sandwich, where she counts every bite of tuna fish. Here I’m on day one, fresh from my tour of the factory, and Dorothy, eager office woman, in her flowered dress, on a smoker’s tour peering from the skywalk, looking down, saying, “They’re all happy little hump bunnies, Nick. You will be too. We’re great. We love you. We’re safe. We’re a family.” And she got me to sign my W-4, got me out there, in the city of paperboard, the glue-glue-for-you city, where people are just puffs of smoke, not glued together, but little carbon engines next to bigger machines. We go crazy, go deaf from the big crashing of gears. Get bloody, get cut and go home looking for glue to piece ourselves together, and wash ourselves with soap that can’t wash away the noise, or the people, or all the hell I never realized I was stepping in on that first day. I stand at the machine. Got my earplugs in. Safety glasses on. Machine hasn’t jammed. Getting the hang of this. Cut fingers out of my gloves. Cut MTV out of my life. Cut the boy out of this man. Cut the sissy out of the pain. Cut sleep out of the night.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Cut night out of the living. Cut hands of their softness. Cut hardships and the ease. Cut motivations and deliberations. Cut my hair. I Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut. Goes the gears and my future. And I am in them and they are me. I am carbon smoke. Fading on the factory floor. The invisible boy becomes invisible carbon. The invisible man. The invisible life. The invisible. Cut. Cut. Cut. Cut.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Blue Collar Anatomy I. Anatomy of a factory worker begins with finding bones fused to machinery connective tissue. I am working every day and every never-ending night, this melancholic torture on the wageslave chain gang, pounding the production line for a paycheck. Valves, veins, rubber gaskets, cell-sucking vacuums, paperboard, blood fiberglass scabs. Plastic wounds pour hot from heart centers. Styrofoam skin, inked solvents, pink glue, metal rollers, foot pads. Conveyers of memories beneath white-collar brain stems. What have I become? II. Beneath the white collars. P e o p l e. Real people. Dirty faces. Overweight women. Drugged up men. Lovers and haters. Cowboy hats, baseball caps, Working-class bars. Women with hateful stares. Timid men without dreams. —6—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Dirty people. I mean greasy, oily people. Nigerians stack boxes. Henry doesn’t use deodorant. Pot smoking paperboard feeders reek of marijuana. Cancerous old lady perfume can’t cover the dull pungency of glue in my nostrils, or the stench of diseased bodies at the conveyers. III. Workers roll out of dirty beds, right into ashtrays. They speed down DISTRICT BOULEVARD, enter factory doors, add to the scent of paperboard, Styrofoam, fiberglass. They scrape burning solvents, those messes of ink spilled from giant printing presses, machinery so large, so gargantuan, they could swallow a man’s scent, gulp down fat, bean-smelling señoritas named Maria. All of them are named Maria. All twelve of them who work the factory floor. Some are white, brown, Filipina, African. Maria, Maria, Maria. Maria! —7—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

IV. Now for a list. Boys and girls are churned out of furnaces, glue machines and big mechanical Styrofoam bowl makers. These people are the criminals of consumerism, hominids of Olduvai Gorgeous, of the factories of Bakersfield. Feel them, breathe them. These are the anatomical defenseless workers. Examined. Dissected. With hearts of inner wastelands, working in cities that push smoke and filth into skies, so you and I can consume, become teachers, doctors, poets and monsters. This is the family of production. I am the worker. I am them. The shift begins as I snap my blue shirt on, pull on my blue cap, grab my yellow gloves and ochre earplugs. Here we come! Steve, big forearmed thug with tats and squinting pot eyes. “What you got for me, Nick?” he asks.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Al, stringy-haired Al, walks with a limp, never misses a day. Sharon on drugs, again, lost. She is so afraid, but cusses all of us. She doesn’t want to get caught selling uppers in the ladies’ room. Benny says he’ll never go crazy, but does. He always wants to tell me what to do, but can’t do it himself. The stretcher carries him into darkness. Hector, gay hombre in a factory finds his place alongside Steven, his blue-contact-wearing Latino lover. Jefe, educated, old grey curls. Old grey soul. Where will you go, bro? George, hand mangled from metal rollers that smashes heroes. Bob, creepy old man, working in the dark, putting together vacuums that suck on cows.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Jesse, the goddam fuse box blows up in your face: metaphor for my pain. Mundy, the bitch is like a father. Carries Vietnam War dead photos stuffed in his pockets. Jay, smiling, remembering. Plays the bass like a harp as he remembers pumping asses on the docks between shifts. Henry, we talk and talk. Your African skin burns as you stack boxes on conveyors. Jeff loses an arm on the way to the windmills from the paperboard factory. Was it just? Was it satisfying? What else will you lose? Johnny, a soldier hero American in Lebanon and in factories. Michael, your melted face still haunts me. Mary, twenty years in factories. In the end, you can’t count everything. But I can count your tears, as I can count mine, lost there in between the glue machines. —10—

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Boxes Fold Like Butterfly Wings There is something beautiful about the factory today. Vats of pink glue. Rollers spitting sticky globs onto paperboard, onto concrete floors. Glue machine No. 14 leaks in a puddle. So we roll out another big yellow barrel. Filled with an ocean of pink glue. There goes the chunk chunk chunk of metal and gluepads. So loud you can barely hear Marie yell: “I’m stopping this machine. The product looks like shit!” She holds folded Bartles & Jaymes paperboard that won’t open. Glued shut, squeezed-eye tight.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Machine so loud, heads rattle even with earplugs twisted and crammed in canals. We stop the machine, tap into the new barrel. Fresh glue pours into trays, clean and silky. Mundy, with photos of Vietnam. “I brought a new one,” he says. “You haven’t seen it.” Tanks have blasted boys from trees. There’s a pile of rubble—a hand faded from a fallen treehouse made just for snipers. I nod. Mundy leaves, works on machine No. 12. Photos of dead gooks stuffed in his pockets. Tells Jay to come help. Jay’s fat, wears a blue ballcap.


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Tells stories of factory life, screwing the workers, lots of drugged-up Latinas on docks late at night. “Those were the days,” he smiles, torques a wrench and laughs. The big glue machine is his woman now. She’s humming again. Purring along green belts. She’s got me feeding in stacks of diaper boxes. Pampers. Paperboard flies through the machine, gets folded, glued and stacked. Cartons are spit out where old lady Mary in thin-lipped determination packs box after box, as Jay and Mundy wander off to the grinder. George is my operator tonight. My head gets lost in 3 a.m. bliss —13—

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until a paper jam crunches through the machine throws off belts, spills glue and halts production on the line at 3:47 a.m., when babes sleep. I’m too late for the big red stop button. Everything grinds to a halt. Cardboard in the machine’s teeth will have to be picked out, pulled, torn, and ripped. I lock the machine out, praise God for my tiny soul. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, thank you, Jesus.” I start ripping paper, tearing at the mess. I really find the guts of the glue beast this time. Mundy and Jay come over. “What’s up, kid?” they say. —14—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

“Gotta pay attention to the heartbeat of the machine,” they say. “When it jams you’ll hear the pitch, feel the rumble, and maybe hit the button in time.” The jam is from stem to stern. Paperboard crammed tight. Other machines along the line buzz a magic glue atmosphere. This is the pink mist of the New glued together planet. Boxes fold like butterfly wings. Along metal wheels. The conveyor belts sing. This factory is alive.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Benny’s Descent Benny wants to get carried out on a stretcher. Damn it Benny, why? Were you once a little boy growing up alone, getting teased, dreaming of fast cars and factories? Naked girls? Nubian production babes? Who beat the shit out of you on the schoolyard? It’s Tuesday. Industrial insanity coats pale, dark-haired Benny in a thick glue of noises and drugs. Yellow lights flash in the land of paperboard products and heavy machinery. Sirens sound between Benny’s large ears. Giant printing presses leak solvents. Benny sees all of this. Does nothing. The finishing department and all of its right-angled machines glue and glue, while boxes on conveyors roll laboriously, paths to pallets in a city of forklift roads. Benny stares. —16—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

He slumps in an office, just inside a glass wall near the supervisor’s desk. On the floor, he cries, “This is the end, man.” Of what? I ask. Of production? Of trees? Of insanity? Of machines? Oh Benny, don’t you wonder what you’ve done? Letting the noise break you down; letting the pills shatter your long nights on the floor, beneath the walkways, where the white collars peer down from catwalks high above, to their machines, to their workers, who hold the glue, who bury faces in grey paint, and wish upon clocks and summer fans, and owls flapping their wings on metal rafters, high above the city of boxes. And you gave in to the machinery and ignored the god bliss of drones and hums. —17—

• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Are We the Union Boss? I greet the union boss in a hotel room somewhere in Bakersfield near District Boulevard. Workers have been arguing in the factory break room. There’s blue collars versus white collars. I think the white collars, at least for these months, hate my Latino guts. The fight comes natural. It’s in the blood. Dad, a truck driver. His dad, Grandpa, some say, was a farmworker. Uncle Tony says, “We all worked in the fields. Your Dad too. Grandpa drove the workers’ bus.” Uncle Tony’s half brother Frank denies it. “He helped my niño with being a fruit contractor. But he never picked,” he says. Where does that leave me? Wondering, Latino lost? My Germanic side, deep on Wisconsin roads,


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

great-great-great so-and-so, a bus driver too? Hands behind the wheel. He steered some damn old bus. Now I’m doodling for the union. Drawing cartoons of factory politics. More reason for the white collars to hate this nineteen-year-old boy. We workers band together. “Hell yeah. Take it to the man!” The people want their two-cent raise. Will they care twenty years from now? “Si se puede!” Marcos yells. His parents were in the fields, But he moved indoors, into blazing summer factories, to work “The Plant.” To bear “The Fruit” of labor. To feed “The Grapevine” of machinery. In the factory we make Pampers boxes. We make Bartles & Jaymes four-pack carriers. We make Tide boxes. We make the consumable, mass produced shit catchers. Boxes for all the products society uses to clean up messes.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

And that sweaty union man? His ass sits in a hotel room writing down notes. He takes my doodle, slams it onto a pamphlet, prints a stack of newsletters, like those old broadsides of Revolutionary days. Our salons and parlors? Really just a break room. When the union forms, we cheer. We pay dues. But nothing changes when the layoffs come.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Forgotten Verses I’m working the ass end of a glue machine. Packing in wine-cooler boxes As Mundy laughs and points. “Preacher boy!” he yells. He sees me with my book. Not just the New Testament. The whole Bible. The entire cheese enchilada. Today there is the reminder of communion. Holy remembrance printed on paperboard: CHERRY WINE COOLER. I’m getting thirsty trying to remember God in his big machine sky, churning out universes, vats of pink celestial glue, metal rods of creation. His Word folds and glues together in just the right spots, so oceans won’t leak. So mountains can’t crumble.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

I don’t understand much of King James. Always had a problem with translations, monks, preachers, old ladies in dresses with Baptist handshakes, big churches filled with fake people. I read on at the glue machine anyway. I scan pages to stay awake. I need Jesus to wake me up, tell me he’s rolled away the stone from the factory cave, so I can finally get out.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

The Mistrust of Hector’s Lover Hector’s lover drives a brand new dark blue 1988 Camaro. I hop in for a ride home from paperboard factory blues. He puts in a cassette of The Smiths. Meat is Murder. The tape looks new. No words worn off the plastic, though this hombre must have played it a thousand times. He knows all the words. I like The Smiths. First listened to them when working at Gemco Shoes with a poet named Joel Blue. A young ballet dancer (can’t recall her name) loaned the cassette to me while she ordered some coke, (not the carbonated kind either) for her boyfriend from the work phone. “Helps him get it up,” she said, cupping the receiver. I gave her a look, “Can I borrow this?” “Just take it,” she mouthed.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

I couldn’t see why anyone would have an impotence problem with her. She was that hot. Factory hot. Boiling pink glue down my spine hot. Hector’s lover will give anyone a lift. Workers, the homeless, nuns. You name it. And he’s a fast worker. Packs boxes, tosses them onto the conveyor belt rollers like he was born a wage-slave. On Friday, Hector’s lover comes to pick me up. He shakes like the conveyor rollers —all rattle. “What’s wrong, man?” I ask. “Fuckers,” he says. “I picked up two women at a gas station. One sat next to me. The other right behind my seat. I should have known better when I felt the knife against my throat. Fucking bitches stole $500.”


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

“You had $500 in your wallet?” I mean, who the hell has $500 ever? If Hector’s lover didn’t swear off hitchhikers after that. Fucking hombre could still pack a mean box, though. Always could.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Manholes and Late Night Roads Red baseball cap on his head, Apocrypha in his hands, receding nappy hairline. Joe talks about “Bell and the Dragon,” rides his bike to work everyday, picks up on the only Black woman he wants in the factory: Michelle. Single mom. Unhappy. Factory faithful. God-fearing lover—not mine—though I worship her dark-skinned body. She crashes her car into a manhole one day on the way to work. I’m in the passenger seat. Big flat tire. I get on a payphone, complain about the operator as I try to connect to AAA. The operator is listening. “I can hear you,” she says, hangs up. Michelle and I consider walking in the darkness—just me and the Angel. There’s a quiet moment; nothing but footsteps and night smog blocking the stars over factory row. As we wait and wait, I wonder what Joe, stacking boxes off the conveyors, is thinking—and whether or not the dragon will come for us.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Exploded Fingers Another night in Paperboard City. I wonder about Brian, maintenance man, so quiet in his blue jumpsuit. Were you in the military? Navy, Air Force? What happened to you? Push your red, tool-chest cart, a vessel for your sins, quietly across slick factory floors. Your transgressions, a stack of color photos on your cart. Set each up so carefully at the beginning of every shift; pics of fingers ripped open in an explosion. “A safety reminder,” he says. I see middle finger bent to the side, full color, exposing red flesh and bone. Hands gutted of skin and sinew. Sick images for all to see.


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Your hands are fine now. Put the pictures away. I don’t want to see them at three a.m. as I stand sleepy at the glue machine, feeding in stacks of paperboard. My mind, jacked up now, is thinking about heads sucked into metal jaws, crushed and smashed like your exploded hand.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Snakes and Owls A rattlesnake and owl follow Jim into the factory. Slow crawler, serpent head sticks, body wriggles as the door shuts. Jim, drugged up Jim. Big bearded Jim, sees the owl. “Must have followed me in.” He watches a fat bird squat on a metal rafter, eyes pulled to the screech of machines. Mundy finds the rattler squirming, head pinched in door. Kills it like a gook, the way he shot them boys from trees.


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The owl sits, eyes searching for mice. This factory won’t shut down for no hunting owls. Never does. The owl will tire, maybe sleep for days. Eventually, it’ll find a way back out. Maybe through the loading dock where Jared, skinny Jared in his trucker cap crashes a big yellow forklift. Backs it right off the docks.


• Songs Of The Glue Machines •

Who backs a forklift off the loading dock? Might as well crash a spaceship on the moon cradled by a big pink nebula. Might as well dance on the ocean with jellyfish shoes. Might as well make a coat of pink glue, dried in the shape of a zoot suit. Might as well back off the edge of a miracle. Anyway, Son of a bitch survived. The owl saw the whole thing.


“Glue Machines rolls in tight succession, chanting, calling out the names, faces, and raw pulse of the humanity that so often goes obscured.”

—tim z. hernandez, author of Mañana Means Heaven, Natural Takeover of Small Things: Poems, and Skin Tax: Poems “Belardes channels Neruda, Levine, and even Kerouac, with images that crank, slide and pull the reader in. His genius is best when his poems pop off the page, when readers grind their teethas metaphors rumbling like twin engines tearing into chests.”

—michael medrano, author of Born in the Cavity of Sunsets: Poems “A docu-poetry epic of the heartbreaking struggle of factory workers, to save their dignity and humanity from the grinding heel of Capitalism. Belardes takes his place alongside such Latino Homers of social change as Jimmy Santiago Baca, Victor Hernandez Cruz and Luis Rodriguez.”

—Alan Kaufman, author of Drunken Angel: Memoir, editor of The Outlaw Bible Of American Poetry

Songs of the Glue Machines is a collection of poetry detailing the working class within California’s San Joaquin Valley in the late Eighties and early Nineties. Nicholas Belardes’ raw lyricism offers a glimpse into the struggles of everyday blue-collar workers in a forgotten part of America.

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