ysabetwordsmith: (Schrodinger's Heroes)
[personal profile] ysabetwordsmith
This poem is from the October 2014 Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] dialecticdreamer. It also fills the "building (verb)" square in my 9-30-14 card for the [community profile] origfic_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by [personal profile] janetmiles. It belongs to the Don't Try This at Home series in Schrodinger's Heroes.


"Believing What You Know Ain't So"


The sun beat down on Eric's back
through his white wifebeater,
and beside him TeJay worked shirtless,
skin coming up with sweat like when
you took a Hershey bar out of the fridge and
let it set on the counter while you poured your milk.

Hard to believe they both got summer jobs,
real ones, not just mowing lawns
for whoever had five bucks that day.

There was no end of stuff that needed done
at the Tef -- miles of fencing to mend
whenever somebody's cows run it down,
potholes in the private roads to patch with gravel,
or secretary work indoors on the hottest days.

Eric gave the postholer one last twist,
then pulled it out of the way so that
TeJay could put in the new post.

The other boy seated it carefully,
checked its alignment with the level,
then tipped the bucket of wet concrete
to pour in the footing around the post.

Funny ... Eric always thought of black folks
as dumb and lazy, but there was TeJay
working his butt off right beside him and
reading the measures on the concrete so that
Eric didn't have to puzzle through them by himself.

It gave him a weird little lurch,
like his head had shifted gears inside
and left his belly behind.

Eric's family had taught him a lot of stuff
that he'd taken on faith, some of which
he'd discovered just wasn't so, and
maybe he hadn't ought to go on believing it,

but he wasn't sure how to get the damn junk out of his head.


TeJay had sand in his jeans and a rock in one boot,
dust on his back sticking to the sweat in a paste
that wouldn't wash off easily in the shower.

This was still the best job he'd ever had.

Happily he looked down at his work gloves,
thick cowhide without a hole to be seen,
and tools that had come new from the store
not scrounged out of somebody's shed.

They mixed up the concrete fresh every other pour,
using the bags and water tank in the pickup,
with exactly the instructions on the package
and not trying to make it stretch by putting in
just a little extra water and some gravel.

TeJay smoothed the footing with a real trowel,
then gave the fencepost a fond pat and
moved on to where Eric was making the next hole.
They both loved building things.

"Whoop whoop whoop!" Eric yelled, pointed.
"Watch your step so's you don't mash the bunnies."

TeJay looked down, and there by his boot
was a tuft of gray fur over tiny pink bodies --
cottontails then, not jackrabbits that were
born with their fur on and eyes open.

Carefully TeJay stepped around the nest,
setting down the half-bucket of concrete
beside the hole that Eric was digging.
"Thanks for the warning."

TeJay's momma had taught him that
white folks were stingy and mean,
and Lord knows he'd seen enough of that,
but now he was learning that maybe
it wasn't always strictly speaking true.

TeJay was willing to turn loose of that idea, if it
got him a good summer job with a hard-working partner.

Now if he could just pry the damn thing loose ...

* * *

Notes:

"Faith is believing what you know ain't so."
-- Mark Twain

Handyman is a common oddjob for teens. There are tips on working freelance.

Black stereotypes include stupid and lazy.

Know how to tell the difference between rabbits (like cottontails) and hares (like jackrabbits).

White stereotypes, especially for rednecks, include mean and stingy.

Unlearning stereotypes is possible, but takes a lot of work. That's basically what Eric and TeJay are doing all summer.

VERY satisfying

Date: 2015-06-21 08:16 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
Moving across the country does a lot to shake up stereotypes. Most interestingly, it made me suspicious of the LOCAL stereotypes I was seeing for the first time here rather than there.

Having something physical but simple to do /did/ help when I needed to think. Having the boys rely on each other will help them just as much.

Re: VERY satisfying

Date: 2015-06-21 10:03 pm (UTC)
dialecticdreamer: My work (Default)
From: [personal profile] dialecticdreamer
I think what I like best is the implicit time passing rather than too-quick changes that don't hang on anything SOLID.

This feels like real change in real young men just on the edge of adulthood.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-21 09:19 pm (UTC)
corvi: (Default)
From: [personal profile] corvi
It's great to see poetry about fence repair! It's an inescapable part of rural living that is never covered in "country songs." We just had to do some repairs on the goat pasture last night.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-21 08:20 pm (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
It's not easy losing stereotypes... especially when the people around you reinforce them so. I hope those two manage to engineer a decent outcome when, once their own stereotypes are prised loose, they object to one of their kin putting it back...

One of the many reasons I left the South is there ain't much room for weirdoes down there. The Heroes have the advantage that Texas is a big place, and the population density isn't very high... but when it comes to small towns, usually thinking differently than the dominant paradigm and getting out of town are closely related. Sometimes the order varies, but there's still a very high correlation.

Yes...

Date: 2015-06-21 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
>> It's not easy losing stereotypes... especially when the people around you reinforce them so. <<

So very true.

>> I hope those two manage to engineer a decent outcome when, once their own stereotypes are prised loose, they object to one of their kin putting it back... <<

They're definitely moving in that direction. Eric is rapidly outgrowing his family, just as Chris has done. TeJay is learning a lot of new things too. Some of the later installments in the series touch on this further. I just finished a story for the Creative Jam yesterday that takes them another step.

>> One of the many reasons I left the South is there ain't much room for weirdoes down there. <<

Good move.

>> The Heroes have the advantage that Texas is a big place, and the population density isn't very high... but when it comes to small towns, usually thinking differently than the dominant paradigm and getting out of town are closely related. Sometimes the order varies, but there's still a very high correlation. <<

So very true. Another advantage is that the locals rely on Schrodinger's Heroes. Nobody outside the team has the whole story, but everybody knows that 1) Alex is loaded, 2) Kay packs a lot of heat, 3) if you diss Pat then he says things that make your head hurt, and 4) if the Weird-Shit-o-Meter is going AAAOOOGAH, you dial the Tef.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-21 10:37 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] janetmiles.livejournal.com
I wish them well in their interior remodeling.

Well...

Date: 2015-06-21 11:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
Schrodinger's Heroes know what they're doing, and making the auxiliary parts of the Tef more habitable is an ongoing project. Bailey and Chris particularly love tinkering with things, and Pat is a nester. As for the idiot young rednecks, they're lucky if they can figure out which end of the paint can is supposed to open.

(no subject)

Date: 2015-06-23 09:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] labelleizzy.livejournal.com
oooh, this. This ... yes. with everything going on right now, yes.

Thank you!

Date: 2015-06-24 01:18 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ysabetwordsmith.livejournal.com
America is arguing over where to put the couch, while the house burns down.

I'll just be over here discussing how to build fire extinguishers.

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