Haibun Today

A Quarterly Journal
Jeffrey Woodward, Editor
Volume 4, Number 2, June 2010

Glenn G. Coats
Prospect, Virginia, USA


Shanghai Noodle Factory

It is just a summer job but my father knows the owner of the company and he wants me to take it seriously. I leave before my father in the morning, follow the road past Lipton Tea, Darts Mill, then on to Whitehouse Station. The factory is on Codington Road, a few miles off Route 22. “Don’t smile so much,” my father advises me. “Look serious like the rest of them.”

time clocks
men wait till the last minute
to leave their cars

The box cars are dropped off at night. When the doors are opened in the morning, they are stacked with lumber from floor to ceiling. Another man helps me unload and sort the boards into various sizes. We fill pallets on wheels then push them into the building. The boards rock up and down like boats on the sea. It takes three days to empty the first box car.

summer dusk
the need for better light
to pull splinters

The new boss is from Texas, big and tall, and no one respects him. He marches down to the loading dock, gives an order, then marches back to his office. Curses and mumbles follow his footsteps.

Rust has bled from the metal building onto the foundation blocks, smearing them like dirty faces. The boss gives me five gallon drums of paint, rollers, and brushes. There is a special powder that I am to add to each drum of paint. He gives me one whole week to paint all the blocks. “Place will look good as new when you’re done,” he says. I start on the western side, out of the sun.

afternoon shadows
my shoulder leans
into fresh paint

After the painting project, I am taught how to use one of the drill presses and stationed near the electrical department. All day long it is the same sounds, the recurring motions of arms, hands, and legs. I force myself to concentrate, no daydreams or I’ll lose a finger. The same center hole in a three inch piece of angle. I can’t hear anyone or anything, just the machine. When someone touches my shoulder, I almost jump out of my skin. “Break time,” Walter says.

lunch whistle
the boss calls me

By the end of July, I am filling orders for the trucks. I carry a clipboard and load boxes of hardware, springs, bundles of track, locks, door sections, and wooden stops. I line pallets up beside the dock like barges waiting to move. Trucks back up to the loading platform and Tom calls out “Lebanon Door” or “Hunterdon.” Tom and his father help me load the trucks and I check off everything we put on. Then I push the empty pallets back into the warehouse. I push the carts faster and faster past row after row of silent doors, then jump on at the last second and ride for a time straight into the belly of the whale.

summer’s end
I shake the last
sweaty hand


Title taken from a song by the group Traffic. The album is titled Last Exit and was released in January of 1969.




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