Simone Weil: The Year of Factory Work (1934-1935)

A glass of red wine trembles on the table,
Untouched, and lamplight falls across her shoulders.

She looks down at the cabbage on her plate,
She stares at the broken bread. Proposition:

The irreducible slavery of workers. "To work
In order to eat, to eat in order to work."

She thinks of the punchclock in her chest,
Of night deepening in the bindweed and crabgrass,

In the vapors and atoms, in the factory
Where a steel vise presses against her temples

Ten hours per day. She doesn't eat.
She doesn't sleep. Shealmost doesn't think

Now that she has brushed against the bruised
Arm of oblivion and tasted the blood, now

That the furnace has labelled her skin
And branded her forehead like a Roman slave's.

Surely God comes to the clumsy and inefficient,
To welders in dark spectacles, and unskilled

Workers who spend their allotment of days
Pulling red-hot metal bobbinsfrom the flames.

Surely God appears to the shattered and anonymous,
To the humiliated and afflicted

Whose legs are married to perpetual motion
And whose hands are too small for their bodies.

Proposition: "Through work man turns himself
Into matter, as Christ does through the Eucharist.

Work is like a death. We have to pass
Through death. We have to be killed."

We have to wake in order to work, to labor
And count, to fail repeatedly, to submit

To the furious rhythm of machines, to suffer
The pandemonium and inhabit the repetitions,

To become the sacrificial beast: time entering
Into the body, the body entering into time.

She presses her forehead against the table:
To work in order to eat, to eat . . .

Outside, the moths are flaring into stars
And stars are strung like beads across the heavens.

Inside, a glass of red wine trembles
Next to the cold cabbage and broken bread.

Exhausted night, she is the brimming liquid
And untouched food. Come down to her.

:: Edward Hirsch, Earthly Measures (Knopf, 1994)


Sonnet for Her Labor

My Aunt Nita's kitchen was immaculate and dark,
and she was always bending to the sink
below the window where the shadows off the bulk
of Laurel Mountain rose up to the brink
of all the sky she saw from there. She clattered
pots on countertops wiped clean of coal dust,
fixed three meals a day, fried meat, mixed batter
for buckwheat cakes, hauled water, in what seemed lust
for labor. One March evening, after cleaning,
she lay down to rest and died. I can see Uncle Ed,
his fingers twined at his plate for the blessing;
my Uncle Craig leaning back, silent in red
galluses. No on esaid a word to her. All that food
and cleanliness. No one ever told her it was good.

:: Maggie Anderson, A Space Filled with Moving


Rush Hour

All day, the important things
leave. Behind the skyline,
the sun is a fast star.
Light seeps
into the city. The street lunges
on its silver belly, turns
back, gives up.
Up steel grids, the city's
last hot breath
pushes itself everywhere
like a stain. They start
to come out, the black suits, men
who can't wait
to loosen their ties. They brandish
briefcases like tense dreams that
just repeat and repeat. Women
exit buildings alone, their hands
shading their eyes, their hands cupped
like hats. Everyone is necessary.
At five o'clock, everyone
wants bourbon, or sleep. Sales
girls lilt past
with a smell of old gardenias, stiletto
heels clicking their song
like castanets. Nylon against flesh,
the swish of skirts. On streetcorners,
newspapers hide faces. Headlines
turn the world
into one small idea. The old drunk
propped on the corner
is asleep with a smile
on his face that could save
this city. Workers pass
him, think "misplaced brick."

:: Gillian Conoley, Some Gangster Pain (Carnegie Mellon, 1987)


Boarding a Bus

In a small-knit Iowa town I watched
a couple board the bus and take the seat
behind me. They'd waited till then to count
their cash. I could hear each of them whisper
fives and ones like vespers, and repeat, then declare
they couldn't afford to go. "But," she added,
"we haven't had a vacation in--" "That's
very true," he said. And they sighed into the rolling scene:
the sunset on a sea of corn,
a lonely red gas station, an old man changing a flat.
I don't want to scare anyone, but
this is your life too. Tell me how it's any different.

:: Steven Huff, Proof (Two Rivers Review, 2004)