“The cock doth craw, the day doth daw
The channerin’ worm doth chide:
Gin we be mist out o’ our place,
A sair pain we maun bide.”
—The Wife of Usher’s Well, traditional folk ballad.
Some people just can’t take a joke.
But Tommy Lee found funny
almost everywhere he looked.
Had he been a stand-up comic
he may have made good money,
or as an author of children’s books.
But Tommy Lee worked in the factory.
And like a kid who never grows up
he was an obsessive practical joker.
Looking back, it’s a miracle
he was never fired, but people say he was
universally admired by his co-workers.
Then one afternoon, Tommy’s fingers
got caught in the machine. And it cut him
clean to both wrists, leaving only stumps.
For two whole days, Tommy’s tongue
was quiet. Then he awoke to the smell
of the hospital, recalled the industrial violence,
and he began to understand:
(he would never work again.)
On the third day, his mother came in,
and she saw Tommy’s chest expand.
And while she cried, Tommy Lee died,
saying: “Look ma, no hands.”
Author’s Note: Of course, actual workplace deaths due to industrial
accidents or workplace safety issues are no laughing matter in the
United States. 4,609 workers were killed on the job in the U.S. in
2011—almost 90 a week or nearly 13 deaths every day. (And this is
the third lowest annual total since the fatal injury census was first
conducted in 1992 by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health
Administration.) I have been privileged over the years to be present
at several Workers’ Memorial Day events (organized by OSHA and the
Department of Labor) where I have delivered an invocation in honor of
workers who died on the job in the previous year.
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