Night Shift

Night Shift

I wait at the light
while the guys coming off work hustle out the factory door
punching out
one minute after seven in the morning
and eight out of ten of them
lighting up cigarettes before they hit the crosswalk
in front of me. Gray
morning gray faces tired
washed out even and pale in the gray light
tattooed arms carrying empty coolers and cold bags
for lunches eaten at midnight or some such time that
they know and I can’t figure out. Being who I am.
Daytime. Not night shift.
Smoke billows around them
as they cross at the light
more relaxed by the time they hit the sidewalk
on the other side of the street
than you could think would have time to happen
but you can certainly see it. I’ve got a whole morning to get through and
afternoon. Lunch no time soon. They’ll be eating dinner. Sleeping.
Two different days are colliding right here at this traffic light.
Night shift. Day shift. Shift one into the other. Not possible.

factory and smokestacks - mixed media, 6" x 6", 2013.

factory and smokestacks – mixed media, 6″ x 6″, 2013.


24 thoughts on “Night Shift

  1. Thank you. I have seen this shift change at this factory for years; it’s about a mile from my house. And I have thought a lot about the perspective of the workers given their work and when they do it.

  2. Thank you. I have never worked nights, but my husband did as a student, security guard! and has talked about it to me (I did not know him then). I see the shift change at this factory, about a mile from home, quite often in the morning, and I’ve thought a lot about the way it must change a person’s perspective. Now you have given me a new addition, your beverage choice. Totally logical and yet totally skewed into another reality. I often exchange hellos with a man on the trail where I run who is doing his after work exercise coming off night shift while I’m out there first thing in my day. Really interesting to me how this all meshes together.

  3. Your poem is very atmospheric and I could really picture the tired, slumping bodies shuffling out of the factory and they grey cast of the light. I worked night shift as a student and would then – if I was lucky – get two hours of sleep before going off to my classes for the day. Three days a week I could then take a quick afternoon nap before starting night shift all over again. The other days I just had to keep pushing through without sleep. Looking back now, I have absolutely no idea how I coped physically.

  4. I really don’t know how I coped other than thinking about the money I needed for rent and food. It was good training for the sleep-deprivation of parenthood I suppose and it also gave me an appreciation of never having worked a night shift job again.

  5. I like this verse of an everyday occurance that most people do not even consider. My grandmother always worked Swing Shift, I always thought was a funny name. Now I see it make since because it’s between day and night shift.

  6. Even though it’s not really an urban scene, I pictured an Edward Hopper painting at first–I think the idea of those tired, slumped over bodies. Wonderful poem.
    Wonderful artwork, too. I like how the mixed media conveys the message of the mixed or colliding times of day.
    I know some people at the gym who work nights, not at factories though, and come into the gym before they go home to sleep.

  7. I’ve noticed the people from this factory for years as they go in or out and I know it’s a well-paying skilled job they do in there because of the type of product they make, but it’s not easy work, physically. Made me think of everyone I see every day (and I used to do it t00) getting up and getting something done day after day. Office, factory, whatever. Just keeping going!

  8. Thank you, and I notice these workers who come out from a local factory that I pass almost every day in particular because (they are on my route, of course, but) I always have wondered how I would feel if that were my boots hitting the pavement at 7 am after a workday/night. Because I’ve always worked days.

  9. Yes, I always liked that name, too, somehow it seemed like it might be more fun to work then, or that it meant something different was happening than from day or night shifts. Which it’s not, but the name did the same thing for me when I heard it back in my younger days.

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