Welcome to Night Shift

My poetry collection, Night Shift, will be coming out in September from Raven and Crow Press.  To celebrate, each week between now and then,  I will be presenting one of my poems.  I hope that you will enjoy stopping in to see them.  The first poem is the title poem of the book.  I wrote this after hearing about National Night Shift Workers Day on NPR.  At first I was amused by the concept of a day for people who work at night.  But as I began to write, I felt more and more that night workers deserved a poem acknowledging them and all they do for those of us who are fast asleep. The poem evolved into something serious for me, and I did my best to praise them in the style of Walt Whitman.  If you’d like, you can also hear me reading the poem on NPR’s All Things Considered  –Karen Glenn

Night Shift

Let us now praise the night shift–
those on the 8 to 4, the 10 to 6,

the 10-hour or 12-hour shift,
the bread bakers pounding and leavening

the pastry cooks rolling and filling,
the sleep-deprived, the heavy-eyed,

the pale and dark ones sleeping
through their days, ambulance drivers

with their bright sirens, pilots
whose planes move like wandering stars,

the dawn-obsessed, the checkers of watches,
nurses slipping into unlit rooms,

the uniformed, the dressed-down, the truckers
with their high beams on, the wired,

the goosed up, the dragged down,
the lost and lonely selling tickets at dim windows,

girls who kick their shoes off, the ones
who walk the aisles, security staff, night watchmen,

all those who guard our nights,
unsmiling collectors of tolls, bouncers

at the after-hours bars, strummers
of guitars, ticklers of drums, working

in the shadow world where fluorescent lights
stand in for sun and flashes of neon

pass for stars.  Let us praise the yawners
and those who stretch to stay awake,

coffee hounds, speed freaks, Coke drinkers,
women splashing water on their faces.

Remember the blackjack dealers with their gleaming cards,
waitresses sleepwalking from table to table,

taxi drivers with a gun in the glove,
all the weary, the fearful, the men

who never see their wives, the nervous babysitters,
those dancing to strange music, the clank

and drone of the factory machines,
printers rolling out the news,

all those dreaming of dawn and sleep
until at last, in the first hint of light, the clerk

alone in the 7-11 counts the change in the cash drawer
and closes out the night.

–Karen Glenn

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2 Responses to Welcome to Night Shift

  1. jonathan wells says:

    I don’t know if this was the first poem of yours I ever read but it was always one of my favorite ones. It’s wonderful to read it again.

  2. Rosemerry says:

    I love the way that exact rhyme with light/night, though buried, does “click closed” the poem, as Emily Dickinson would say, thereby “closing out the night” so viscerally for the reader. I really like this poem, Karen.

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