Noon Whistle

Leaping from the edge-of-town
factory fist, a machinist,
buttoned blue sleeves,
steps into the autumn noon light.
Sits, back to the smokestack,
on an old wooden bench
opens wax-paper tuna
seedless dark rye, a half-sour.
A bookkeeper
stretches fingers ’round a flat
wide thermos, lentil soup,
and a welder, unmasked,
sips crimson borcht,
red confetti floating on top.

The noon whistle
belts the waist of town:
west, where a lumberyard
forklift driver pulls the key midhaul,
east, where clockmakers stuff time
into a belly of oak.

Let’s not be confused.
The shorter, random whistle
the one that makes us pause, the one
we turn heads from and ask,
who did your sister say
was tapdancing the cliff?
rides a puff gray smoke —
at no given time, some days twice
some not at all —
from the tall brick chimney
inside Memorial gates.

Worker, too, who loads, slides
the first box in,
latches the blasting furnace door
pulls some sort of switch.
This time, whistle and noon whistle
mount as one.
Hands washed, hat off the hook

universal lunch.

Denise Bergman is the author of Seeing Annie Sullivan, poems based on the early life of Helen Keller’s teacher (Cedar Hill Books, 2005), and editor of City River of Voices, an anthology of urban poetry (West End Press). Her poems have been published widely.