Since 1996 Volume XXI

M. L. Liebler


Underneath My American Face


Gramps, through all the years of layoffs

And callbacks, you worked in

The factory laboring endlessly

From your first day in Detroit until you retired

From the Dodge Main line 33 years later


Gramps, I sometimes wondered

What your life could possibly have been

With the exact same breakfast everyday at 5:30 a.m.:

Two fried eggs, bacon, toast, and coffee with condensed milk?

They say a man is

Measured by his soul.

Yours was dark and blue,

But I never understood much more

Of who you really were.


Gramps, who loved me more

Than any father loves a son.

In an old black & white photograph

You stand next to the neighbor’s

New DeSoto with their small travel trailer.

I knew the only important thing to you

Was the sweet, dedicated woman

Whom you loved for over 50 years.


Gramps, you were always

The one I admired—

As you lived exactly what you believed:

Hard work, a paycheck,

And an occasional, small, treasured kiss.


Gramps, you never needed much

Because you knew,

As I am learning now,

It was never

About you. How silent

Your joy must have been

In your old battered Chrysler

That you drove back and forth

To work at the plant—





Like your own life

It was enough to get you from here to there,

With nothing at all waiting for you

At the end other than

A life

Well lived,






This poem first appeared in The Paterson Review in 2015


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