Welding is conviction

Arnold Christofferson—who likes his last name,
but wishes it started with a K, like Kris’s—
is standing outside of his machine shop.
His steel-toe Kodiaks are planted hip-wide,
and sole-deep in rainbowing oil-slick slush.
On his head, orange helmet-visor is tilted up like a satellite dish,
or, like the mandible of a toucan lifted to guava.
Behind, big bay-doors are thrown open to April.
At the threshold, a steel beam resting on pitted concrete,
has a perfect stringer-bead that is glowing kidney-red.

Squinting away the grey curl from an Export A,
Arnie inhales the main drag of Springside,
and confides in me, without looking,
that metal is language, welding is conviction,
and the blue arch of a 7018 rod is thought.

He’s lit a fuse in his eyes with welding talk.
Hot tip and heat and just the right coaxing.
The kneading, softening, plying, and slow pressure,
of red tongue, the sudden parting of bright steel lips.
Then the slow weave away, the soft tracing of a finger,
on the cooling-closed-mouth, and the promise within.
Slag chipped away, reveals that perfect scar,
like lace draped over a dark thigh.

Late summer in a blondish bar in Bismarck, Arnold takes bets.
I join the line and crumple my wrist on his girth,
—move on without grimacing.
Greasing combines in the morning, he grins at me.

I don’t see his Silverado in the South Dakota sun,
and back a loaded grain truck into the driver door.
He takes my earnings for the summer,
leaving me enough for a Yamaki 12-string.

Halloween night, with friends, I roll his trailers out on Main,
and barricade the bay-doors with rusted husks of farm equipment,
once lost behind his shop,
among the nodding thistle and dying broomgrass.

Next spring Arnie tells me I’m on the crew if I want it.
I tell him I’m not doing much else. He nods,
looks at my hippy jeans and says he could help those out,
by spot welding the rivets.
My hair has grown, and he says he could trim that up,
with his acetylene torch.

It’s May and we’re standing outside the shop after a rain.
Peeling back crisp silver foil, Arnie lifts out a cigarette,
offers me one, then steps back and lights his with a benzene torch.
He lowers the glowing cherry from his lips,
and gazing up over the CN tracks,
he thanks me—for rescuing all that old iron,
and dragging it out to the front of his shop.
Said he’s salvaged some rusting I-beams for framing,
some angle-iron, for bracing.

And I see a tree of steel, roots of Noble blade,
I-beam trunk, spring-steel limbs,
pipe-iron branches, John Deere disc leaves,
Case cultivator-shoe seed-pods,
and I think of sowing and harvest.
Squinting away the grey strand of main street,
Arnold and I exhale, and wait upon the season,
to take us out of town, and south across the border.


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