The roofers called me gopher, grunt,
the job requiring the obedience of a loyal retriever
and the resilience from continual deprecation,
the skinny kid hired for a few weeks
of summer when the temperatures arced
and the sun rose hot and discomfort with it.

I’d carry two bundles of shingles
up a ladder past the second story dormers
and drop them to the roof with a bark
that was half detonation of a shell
and half the first syllable of a growl
of an angry dog. I would tip forward

slightly to unload and the lightening
would tilt the ladder away from the house,
and in momentary rapture I’d stand
like the world’s tallest man on stilts
before the lean of my arms would bring
the ladder back to the eaves waiting like a mother.

All rapture is like that, momentary,
a surprising balance of danger
and freedom from the weight of work.
Even today, I took a chance on the apex
of a ladder working to trim a privet,
needing to grab a higher branch to saw

the lower, and for a moment as the teeth
chunked soft wood from the branch
my toes left the metal rung
and I hung as I sawed, the thick branch broke
and fell with the same thud of a pack of shingles,
and I was happy, hanging above earth,

for again I had defeated gravity
with a fleeting circus act,
again I was the walker on stilts.


Sound Bite in Salinas Valley

Rain goes from much to none
and back to much
skipping some
and a little
the constant sun
intermittently shines
like a politician’s teeth
glazed and polished
appear between sentences
that promise
and a smile
that silently steals it

where can trust
be placed
when lips
both spew
and devour
invite intimacy
to a tongue
tied in a lie


Jeff Burt lives in Santa Cruz County, California, and works in mental health. He has a young Labrador that could be used as a plow horse.