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EMPATHY LESSON by Richard Peabody

“Something about Nam. I don’t know. Now get back to work.”So I had this winter job at a junkyard
where I stood around a fire in a barrel
and warmed my hands until the
boss cussed me out.

This was the signal to use my
fiber blade saw and trim copper pipe
from the ends of scrap car radiators.

Two or three of us doing it in teams.
One guy would hold while the other guy cut
and then we’d switch.

You’d end up with this curly sea serpent of copper
and the flush o o o o’s of the radiator.

My partner was a full of shit
Roscoe dude, rattling on about
the Man this and Nam that.

I thought he was a rank bastard
lording it over my white suburban self.
He acted drunk, or like he had

one hell of a hangover. And my feelings
didn’t change when he fell on the ground
and began to roll back and forth gagging.

“What a joke,” I said.
The boss walked up. “Stick
your fingers in his mouth
and grab his tongue,” he shouted.

“What?”
“Just do it.”
I didn’t move, my mind blank,
a crowd gathering.

The boss looked at me like I was
a complete waste of space and stuck
a screwdriver in the guy’s mouth and held
his tongue down until he stopped rolling.

“Does that happen very often?” I asked.
“Seems like every damn day.”
“Why?”
“Something about Nam. I don’t know.
Now get back to work.”

I never went back to that job.

3QR Author Note

3QR Author Bios

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