UCU Strike Poems 3 – Calling Him Back from Layoff, by Bob Hicok

Calling Him Back from Layoff

I called a man today. After he said
hello and I said hello came a pause
during which it would have been

confusing to say hello again so I said
how are you doing and guess what, he said
fine and wondered aloud how I was

and it turns out I’m OK. He
was on the couch watching cars
painted with ads for Budweiser follow cars

painted with ads for Tide around an oval
that’s a metaphor for life because
most of us run out of gas and settle

for getting drunk in the stands
and shouting at someone in a t-shirt
we want kraut on our dog. I said

he could have his job back and during
the pause that followed his whiskers
scrubbed the mouthpiece clean

and his breath passed in and out
in the tidal fashion popular
with mammals until he broke through

with the words how soon thank you
which crossed his lips and drove
through the wires on the backs of ions

as one long word as one hard prayer
of relief meant to be heard
by the sky. When he began to cry I tried

with the shape of my silence to say
I understood but each confession
of fear and poverty was more awkward

than what you learn in the shower.
After he hung up I went outside and sat
with one hand in the bower of the other

and thought if I turn my head to the left
it changes the song of the oriole
and if I give a job to one stomach other

forks are naked and if tonight a steak
sizzles in his kitchen do the seven
other people staring at their phones


Bob Hicok, from Insomnia Diary,(University of Pittsburgh Press, 2004)


The university that I work for is currently in conflict with the union that I belong to, the UCU, over Universities UK’s (UUK) proposed changes to the Universities Superannuation Scheme (USS).

This has resulted in lecturers like me taking strike action.

You can read more about the reasons some of us have for taking this action here and here.

For the next few days of strike action I am going to be posting poems on my blog whose subject matter is the world of work.

On this fifth day of strike action we read Calling Him Back from Layoff, by Bill Hicok.


You can follow the #USSStrike hashtag on Twitter here and the #UCUStrike hashtag here.

If you can take the time to retweet or share this poem via social media I would be so grateful.


The views posted in this blog are mine alone and do not represent those of my employer.


  1. tiostib

    I have felt the agony of joblessness, questioned my manhood, wondered why working hard, doing my best, was not enough. Freedom is not an easy road, demanding daily acts of moral courage. Stay strong, my heart is with you, and thank you for posting these poetic reminders of our humanness.


    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you again Tio. Your words warm my heart, even in this subzero temperature. I will be back on the picket line on Monday, thinking of your encouragement. With best wishes as ever, Anthony


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