Roadbuilders move to the rhythms
of a coughing puppeteer. Crouching
behind white blocks of stone
only their bare feet are shaded.

By a pile of sun-baked rubble a Mercedes
camouflaged with mirrors is waiting.
The idle chauffeur lights a cheroot
from a rock. In the back seat a fat man

wrapped in flags is coughing and praying.
Strings tighten, roadbuilders lifted
from this stone to that –
excavate here, deposit there. Sweat

like torn necklaces leaks and congeals
with the same stagnant sparkle seen
in the coughing man’s eye.
Another cough. Strings tighten,

the men jerk erect.
An empty bulldozer roars.
Packed in the white ribs of the unfinished road
a steaming black swamp of charred tongues.

‘Cheap tarmac,’ the coughing man smiles. He can see
the men gasping for words that won’t come.

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