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