Phillip Crymble


              Our first day on the yard crew we got given brooms 
and spades. The foreman put the jobs

              list on a clipboard—looped a length of nylon cinch 
strap through the hang hole—left it

              tied against the factory gate. We’d all signed on to skive 
off for the summer—fuck the dog—get paid

              a union wage. The sons of laborers and tradesmen— 
of office clerks and engineers—

              a company of maladaptive roughnecks just not bothered— 
as disinclined as house cats—the each

              of us with scrubby beards. For me, a high-school stoner, 
into mid-career Steve Miller, Kawasakis

              and Camus, it meant I’d get to put away a bankroll— 
buy that lime-green two-stroke Ninja

              in the showroom—wind it out on the escarpment— 
teach all those other fools. Each morning,

              in our boilersuits, we’d lumber past the coal stack 
and the crusher—light a smoke

              beside the pack house—kick the concrete off our boots. 
Like miscast teenage extras in a workplace

              safety PSA—our helmets, masks and glasses sent 
from wardrobe—the footage shot

              on Super-8—we’d wait to hear the blow tone 
of the whistle—punch the time clock—

              slowly file away. The closeness of the dig pit 
always made me think of yeast spores—

              how they’d multiply on culture plates. Lit by wall 
lamps dim as ropelights in the aisles of two-reel matinees,

              we passed the time like stowaways
in steerage—drank milk we stole from crates outside the mess

              hall—chained du Mauriers. Months later, in the day 
room, IV tape marks on my wrist and feet,

              it felt like I’d been rescued by a dive team—extracted 
from the darkness—freed from dreamless

              sleep. Insensible and tamed by analgesics, I sat wordless 
by the folk art—flipped through picture books

              and magazines. In time I’d learn to settle—tie my laces 
with my teeth—write my name in an intruder’s

              hand—allow myself to breathe. For now they’d tasked 
an orderly to mind me—keep sharp objects out of reach.


                          Much folksier than cripple. 
Used to classify disease.

             Cross-listed in the OED 
                          with gammy. A noun

denoting illness or affliction. 
             What we pray to god

                          our kids won’t be. Don’t 
tell me that you

             know how much I’ve suffered. 
                          Or what it’s like

to struggle in a world that meets 
             your every need.

                         It’s time for you to see 
what you’ve been

             missing—to choose your words 
                        more carefully.


From the Author: Man-Days is an industry term used to quantify human labor by breaking it into units of value or utility. In many factories, a board that keeps a running count of Man-Days lost to death or injury is commonplace. When I was eighteen I lost my right arm at the shoulder in a workplace accident. These poems address this experience and what it means to be visibly disabled in the world.

Phillip Crymble is a physically disabled poet from Belfast now living in Atlantic Canada. A poetry editor at The Fiddlehead, he holds a MFA from the University of Michigan and has been published in Guesthouse, Vassar Review, Passages North, Poetry Ireland ReviewThe Forward Book of Poetry, and elsewhere. In 2016, Not Even Laughter, his first book-length collection, was released by Salmon Poetry. In 2019 he was selected as the winner of the Penny-Farthing Prize for Lyric Poetry by Diane Seuss.