Are those empty cans, rattling off
their phonics in unending repetition,
trying to tell me something as they pass
on over-my-head conveyors toward the cannery
next door or toward our loading dock?

How can I turn a deafened ear
from their demands? Do my fellow workers
on the night shift curse them
in some bastard form of Spanish?
I’m no good in a second language;

they might be what the Germans call
Gastarbeiter, “guest workers”–
immigrants who do the work
no respectable citizen would stoop to.
Sometimes, when they’re fed up—cuando
estan harto de—feeding cans to boxcars,
they take a cigarette break,
their words glossed by an orange glow
behind cupped hands and lighted matches

and on our loading dock the cans are silenced,
plugged up far back on their chutes.
Our foreman runs out from the factory,
his mouth, like those of the now-moving cans
wide open, through the clatter
what he yells lost in translation.