Advanced Search
Southern Spaces
A journal about real and imagined spaces and places of the US South and their global connections


fourteen, I’m packin’ crates
Fairmont Foods--Cary, NC
only mixed-blood "Indian blonde" girl around
only factory workside worker not black
all of us under white Super’s thumb

tho when shop stewards hound dues
I don’t know what’s what
thinkin’ this work here
is dues enough
what’s a union do for me?

Sadie, she took my arm, said,
“Listen, you stick close to me
when you go out back,
they’re gonna get ya’.”
Me, I follow

suit down, shower up
snack bar and closing

fourteen, I’m still wild yet
don’t know enough to be scared
so I never am
that’s how I got these scars here.
Anyway, I follow Sadie

she’s about fifty
and weighs five times that
just before the door she
grab’s a hunk o’ rebar
and latches my hand

we start out back
light up a Camel straight
look left, there’s about twenty,
eyes, rebound right, twenty count more,
they semi-circle in

memory rings--I hear my dad’s voice advising me ‘bout
             fightin’ white girls
“Circle ‘em they’re easier to pick off”

Sadie swings the rebar
and calls ‘em all on down
warning, “Touch one corn-silk
on this girl’s head and
I’ll kill ya’. I will, too.”

Her eyes round and circle wild
her big bosom heaves breath
she swings round and wide
hoping for reason to let out some rising steam

half a century’s factory work
crackers, all those crackers
four corner nabs under her belt
500 gallon vats--peanut butter
stink so strong the smell
lasts a lifetime and more
crackers flying by ‘bout ninety miles per

pull and pack ten
thirty, if you’re a stacker
pull and pack ten filled and
wrapped on belt conveyors
drop in cardboard containers

pull ten more
till ten times ten makes
one hundred count boxes--
Austin Foods--all the scrambled ones
go to feed dog, or hogs

somewhere, they say,
somewhere far, far, away

lookin’ at Sadie swing rebar
you know she’s packed plenty
I wish I was packin’ more ‘n fists
studying Sadie I surmise
her punch’d be good as my drop cut

on the so-white preacher’s daughter’s nose
when she called me a heathen
I was proud of breakin’ it in one jab but,
my dad said I maybe just
proved her right

Hell, I didn’t even know what a heathen was
guess this union thing must
be like a club for preacher’s daughters
I decide and slide
shuffle step slide
in to back up Sadie’s swings

swing low, swing high, swing ‘round and back

never had an older woman
fend for me before
defended plenty though
guess it’s fair in all
Union guys they

just pull in and pull back
like a boxer afraid to land
case he might get landed on
Sadie is so big to me
she’s the midnight blue of sky

just swings and swings with fear of God
human pendulum momentum
strutting her stuff through the crowd
straightening ‘em out like scolding babies
“Didn’t your mama hold you?”

“What you big men wanna beat
a tiny girl like this for?”

I look down my upper arms
fully bulged from field work--
furrows and packin’ crate and
concrete block--
heavy work side I live

they just don’t fit my build
so I look like a monkey
when I look in mirrors
big muscular arms and back on
a skinny little frame

kinda wiry, funny, even to me
the biceps aren’t tiny, I think
and pull back my jacket
to show ‘em off
let ‘em ripple with blood pumping

never did know when to be scared
even when I was really shy

Sadie steps through
Austin Food’s finest forty
like walkin’ water, she steps
I walk right on by behind her
they begin shuffling, shuffling

away at her words and
at the Super’s flood lights

now circling us and flashin’
like a prison yard
counter escape
warden super packin' something else
we’re past and out

I look at Sadie
she whispers low, only to me,
“Better get them dues paid.
Next check, okeh?”
I nod, duck out the lot

hitch a semi home down
highway 50    smellin’ like crackers
and peanut butter from packin’ four corner nabs
even after the shower down
spot a teamster card on the visor


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

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