The Tomato Packing Plant Line

Bumped and rolling jovially
down the conveyor the tomatoes
dance in       a press of faces
the shine on their skins like smiles
the stem ends chipper as cowlicks.

Young women remove the mistakes--
harelips       two-headed ones       gashed ones
with papery crosshatched scars.
Tiny ones too are removed
to be juiced with the freaks.

At the far end hemmed in by boxes
the old women sort the tomatoes
the largest and the perfect ones first.
Their hands       like their eyes
know the swell before ripeness.
It is something they flaunted
on Fridays            a gust that inflated
box-pleated skirts into bells
as they stepped into dusk
hands washed white of tomatoes
which did not survive
their ripeness.

:: Enid Shomer, in If I Had a Hammer: Women's Work in Poetry, Fiction, and Photographs

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