An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections

Off-Season

FOR FIELDWORKERS AND FARMERS LIKE ME

Early, on grayest morning, when we
nettled deep in between rows,
tobacco and sweet potato,
both two seasons away from planting,
you reasoned I belonged there,
flowing like creek water
below our bright leaf fields,
then showing only golden stubble and root.
You said I’d never make it
swinging hammers and teething
saws for Inland Construction.
I raised my back wings, those muscles
wrought from priming rows, muscles
which cradled my ribs and sides. I
chucked tools in the flat bed, headed
north, to the city sprawled out like
scattered masonry and split rails, Raleigh,
smoked factory winds and speak easy halls.

A white chicken fell off a Tyson rig,
just a bit ahead of me on Saunders Street.
I called her “Hooker”
from walking down the red light street.
The Inland guy hiring was big and red,
sat behind a door laid flat for a desk on cinder block.
He chuckled much like you
at the sight of me, but the fields and breaking horses,
justified my ninety pounds of lean.
Next day he had me start out on a crew full of men.
Men who’d never seen a woman work
that way in town, first
time I had a chance to operate a back hoe,
first time I got to frame, and when I swung the hammer
full leverage, three pounds drove in sixteenpennys straight.
In six weeks, I made foreman.
Just before I drove back to you.
“Hooker” almost got pecked to death
by our bantams--citified as she was.

I laid out so much money, I beat
what you pulled in for fall. We settled in
for the long freeze. You ate ridicule and haste.
We never were the same,
until spring when the fields reclaimed
us as their own and we returned
to what we both knew and belonged to.
The off-season only an off-shoot
in what we were meant to be.
You never did know this part
of what I am. Fieldworker, or framer,
I only showed you what you said I couldn’t be.

 

Published in Off Season City Pipe: Work (Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2005).

Published: 14 October 2010
© 2010 Allison Hedge Coke and Southern Spaces