So today I was driving home, listening to the radio, and some random line of some background song struck some cord in my head that sparked a memory of a poem that I remember loving. The song had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that I was too lazy to change the station, but the poem it reminded me of (for absolutely no good reason) is below:
The Feet Man
by Philip Dacey
The worst job I ever had was nailing
Jesus’ feet to the cross on the
assembly line at the crucifix factory.
Jesus! I’d never thought of myself
as religious before that, but when
I had to strike those nails—I figured
it up once—more than two thousands times
a day, my mind began seeing things:
little tremors along the skin, jerks of
those legs that were bonier than
models’ legs, his eyes imploring,
forgiving. I swear, if a tiny drop of blood
had oozed out of that wood at my pounding,
I wouldn’t have been surprised at all.
I was ripe for a miracle, or a vacation.
All I got was worse: with each blow
of the hammer, I flinched, as if I
were the one getting pierced. Doing
that job day after day was bad enough,
but doing it to myself—my arms
spread out from one end of my paycheck
to the other—was crazy. I began
to sweat constantly, though the place
was air-conditioned. It wasn’t long before
the foreman took me aside and told me
I was taking my job too seriously, that
if I wanted to keep it I had better calm down.
He was right. I pulled myself together
like a man and put all pointless thoughts
out of my head. Or tried to. It wasn’t easy:
imagine Jesus after Jesus coming down
at you along that line, and you with
your hammer poised, you knowing
what you have to do to make a living.
Having just typed this (because I couldn’t find it online anywhere), I realize that it’s way too good for me to have almost forgotten. My Doge Poetry group read it a few years ago and it’s been in a dusty binder ever since. I really should have taken it out and let it breathe a long time ago.
The images in this poem are both haunting and comical at the same time, a rare combination that is a bit disturbing in and of itself. “Imagine Jesus after Jesus coming down/ at you along that line, and you with/ your hammer poised….” Wow. For an agnostic like me, that’s a very foreboding picture. The poet (does anyone know anything else by him?) couples that striking image with the very funny “I was ripe for a miracle, or a vacation.” Ha!!!
The worst job I ever had was working for ETS, hand scoring AP tests for the arrogant and the ignorant who insisted that there must have been a mistake and they couldn’t possibly have done as poorly as the machine-scored test report said. That was mind-numbing work, especially considering that the whole summer I spent doing it, we (the entire group of us—maybe 15 people?) only found ONE mistake. But my boring job was nothing compared to some of the things that other people have to do ever day. I can’t imagine having to work in a crucifix factory, though in my head I picture it being very poorly lit and musty, with dark wood walls and a loud train whistle that blows at lunch time.