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The Irish Side

John Long

I’m named after my grandfather

John Edward Long.

We shared a name

and jokes

about our name—

for a long time

our only connection.

Jokes about Long John

in the nineteenth century

are the same

in the twenty-first.


Grampa went to work

age thirteen

in a woolen mill;

by fifteen,

an accident with a machine

mangled his right hand.


His first finger, gone.

second finger

down to first knuckle.

Third finger

to second knuckle.

He recovered

went back to work.

People said he changed

from a young man

eager to work,

to a tough old bird

in one swoop.

Grampa worked hard

became a foreman

but never loyal

to any company.

Another job offer

for more money,

and he moved on

with no explanation.


As a boy I didn’t

see my small grampa

as a tough boss

feared by men at the mill.

He sat in his chair

listened to the radio,

needed a cane

had glasses so thick

his eyes were huge.

I glimpsed his past life

only when he barked at me,

“stop making noise

go play outside.”

At fourteen

I worked as a caddy

at a wealthy country club

carrying golf bags

learning about class

from men who said:

industrial accidents

are unfortunate.

We try to prevent them

but sometimes

workers are just careless.


I had the chance to go after

more schooling than grampa.

I learned

to be a smart bird

not a tough one.

I learned

to imitate Grampa’s

attitude toward work:

give your best work

demand good pay

no loyalty, no trust

for any employer

take the next job offer.

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