Sandhogs Local 147

by James Kelly Quigley

The loops of razor wire
bathed in floodlights
spike you without touching,
and up those knee-deep pools
with pneumatic jackhammers
you say the muck’s like soup
and the hog says yeah clam chowder
now would you kindly shut the fuck up
hose that rebar with the concrete
so I can go home and not fuck my wife.
He holds court amid the glop and tubes.
You look a little silly in a yellow slicker
caked with sludge. You tell no one
of your excruciating toothache, precursor
to the bends, because forty-five dollars an hour
sounds right as rain. The blast man
shouts a final warning. Two hundred sticks
of dynamite bust virgin bedrock,
four hundred million years of slumber
blown out the back end
by a Polish guy lined in plastic
who prays at St. Barnabas. In the sand-
house post-shift he lays out your history,
informs you that one man died for each mile
of the Hudson River Tunnel, and you say
mmhmm. He says you age in the hole.
It puts a hurting on you. Silicosis
from years of breathing rock dust
kicked up by massive boring machines,
Caisson’s disease from compressed air
deteriorating your bone. He slings
his red muddied hard hat onto the hook
and says one of the things about blasting is
you never know what you’ll get until
you’re down there. Then he pushes the screen
open and the heat sucks out the trailer door
as he goes. Two hogs come in with Dunkin’,
their gloves clipped in carabiners.
One asks you how it feels to boldly go
where no man has gone before, dragging
his Newport to the filter. You ask him
to kiss your red, pimply ass. There’s mercy
in this ritual anger. Pragmatism.
You’ve got to know, when there’s ten hogs
smushed like sardines in the space of a hot tub
six hundred feet below the navy yard, that words don’t matter,
only action, and more than that, preparedness.
Once, when your foreman used to hog,
his buddy got cut in half by the motor
of a runaway railcar. Foreman put the halves in a sack,
brought that sack to the metal cage
where he slowly ascended to the surface,
and after heaving it to a nearby truck
he vomited in a mound of dirt. Now all he’ll say
about that night is, The tunnel had a bad slope.

James Kelly Quigley is the author of Aloneness, a strictly samizdat chapbook handbound in
Brooklyn by Umpteen Triangles. Named among the “30 Below 30” list by Narrative Magazine,
James has won the Phyllis Smart-Young Prize in Poetry and been recognized with several
Pushcart Prize and Best New Poets nominations. His manuscript Bath; or, My Dynamic Attitude
Toward What Is Erroneously Called the Afterlife
was a finalist for the Brittingham and Felix
Pollak Prizes in Poetry (2022), as well as a semi-finalist for the Marystina Santiestevan First
Book Prize (2022). Recent work has been published or is forthcoming in The Southern Review,
American Chordata, The Los Angeles Review, Electric Literature, Denver Quarterly, Ninth
, and other places. He received both a BA and an MFA from New York University, where
he taught undergraduate creative writing and was an editor of Washington Square Review. James
lives in Brooklyn and works as a freelance writer.