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Hard Work

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Tricky work sometimes not to smell yourself,
ferment being constant—constant as carnival sweat
(a non-stock phrase I palmed from a girl from Canada,
a land where I once saw this graffiti: life is great).

And I have tasted myself, especially when I spilled
sinigang all down my arm in a Pinoy workers' caff
in Little Manila. I drank sinigang (is soup drunk?)
in Big Manila too, with all its dead skyscrapers.

Seen myself? In looking glasses or, looking down,
stocky as a shift working cop, maybe a Mexican cop
full of beans (frijoles, I mean, not vim), paunch full
of sopa de vigilia, pulling over a sozzled bus driver.

Heard myself speak fluently in my own language,
have heard myself too described as hard work
(as hard to get through as Scotch broth), though once
someone rather bladdered told me I was magnetic.

And I may as well admit that I have touched myself
(who hasn't?). In a forest, on a train, in New York
and Paris with unparalleled handiwork, sinning   
as I go, merry as an office boy spooning onion soup.

Source: Poetry (January 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the January 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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Hard Work

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