When I was a young lad in New Zealand,
I began my working life
At the bottom
Of a road construction ditch.
I was a navvy.
Better known today as a manual laborer.
My job was to shovel the shit
That had accumulated
Within the ditch.
To shovel it from the bottom
Of the ditch to the top.
And sometimes for a change
From the top to the bottom.
I was in a work gang
Composed of a dozen or so men.
Our gang and many others
Were way up in the boondocks
North of Auckland,
Cutting scrub, clearing lines,
And of course as always digging ditches,
Getting things ready
For the big earthmoving machines
Due to start in the summer.
We were miles from civilization,
So far beyond
The back of beyond
That we lived in our own tent city,
Which we called Shangri-La,
Complete with canteen, laundry, hospital, etc,
And even a barber shop on Sundays
When we got a half day off.
Our gang boss was named Arthur.
He was the toughest
Gang boss there was.
He was feared by all,
For he could be a violent man
When he felt he’d been disrespected,
Or when the men slacked off too much,
Or if he just happened to be feeling that way.
His language was fierce too.
The most ferocious in The Company,
Adding to his reputation
As one tough son-of-a-bitch gang boss
Who didn’t take any crap
A reputation of which Arthur was very proud.
When I first began working
In the ditches
I was sixteen-years-old.
I hadn’t spent much time
In the company of grown men yet,
So I was afraid of Arthur
With his fierce reputation and his swinging fists.
He detected this,
And seeing the men saw it also,
He treated me with extra hostility,
As if to break my spirit
And bend me to his will.
“Watch out for Arthur.”
The men warned me.
“He’s a mean one.”
“What’s he got against me?” I wondered.
But nobody knew.
So I stayed out of Arthur’s way
As much as I could,
And shoveled the shit
As best as I was able.
A philosophy I still practice today.
Then one day,
While shoveling shit
From the bottom of a ditch
Way out in the middle of nowhere,
I was struck in the foot with a pickaxe.
The man in the ditch next to me
Slipped and lost control
Just as he swung with all his might,
And into my foot his pickaxe went!
It bled terribly and hurt like hell!
The pick had stuck in my foot
And wouldn’t come out,
Much to the amusement of my workmates
Standing in the ditch with me,
Who didn’t immediately comprehend
The severity of the situation.
I didn’t either,
And seeing the others were laughing
I laughed too and pointed at my foot, saying,
“Somebody take a picture!”
And other foolish nonsense
As my boot filled with blood.
Not Arthur, though.
He understood right away!
He jumped into the ditch,
Pushing the other workers aside,
And hoisted me out.
Then without attempting to remove the pick from my foot
He applied a tourniquet above my ankle
With the sweaty bandana from round his neck,
After ordering one of the men
To fetch his goddamned truck and be quick about it
So he could get me to the hospital.
That’s when I passed out.