That day the most beautiful thing she saw was pigeons.
Neatly dressed in grey and silver stripes, or snuff brown,
like office workers, except the shocking ascot, the neck
oilslick green and purple, the finicky pink naked feet.

Walking barefoot in broken glass and crushed paper cups,
what are the pigeons learning? Assiduously searching through
the scattered trash of human lives, they startle Beatrice.
She's used to them flying by like windblown plastic bags.

Now she's fixed by one scavenger eye, coy,
shy, trash with consciousness. The bird cocks its head
sideways, feminine wile, a friend's attention. Suddenly

       she's standing in a city peopled by birds, their hub-bub
       conversation, and their wheeling flight toward home, the rock
       cliffs of skyscraper and church steeple, each cranny and nook
       they remember from when they nested there, rockdove
       high above the river in the granite palisades, long before
       convenient niche apartments were built for them by men.

:: Minnie Bruce Pratt, Walking Back Up Depot Street (1999)


Doing Beans

Treva brought a grocery bag of cukes,
inked on the side, FREE TAKE

ALL YOU WONT. Mid-morning break,
Charlie picks each one out, rolls it

hand to hand. Pauline calls from the booth,
"You ain't quality control. Quit handling 'em."

She laughs, words punching smoke that spurts
from her nose and mouth at the same time.

She's working on her eighteenth year in sewing.
Across the table, Treva, working on her third,

sips iced tea from a silver thermos,
worries a cut on her right hand, stirring

last night's late squash--today's cold lunch--
with a plastic spoon, not hungry.

Up past midnight doing beans, three canners,
eighteen quarts. Tonight she'll do it again for Mama.

Fingers tight from stringing, she's wasted
half the morning sewing M sleeves into S torsos,

fumbling with the bobbin, mind drifting, thinking
about beans, beans, more beans, coming in faster

than cut fabric to her bin.
Tired as she is, knowing what's ahead,

that 3:00 whistle's no relief today.
"You can buy 'em at the grocery two for a dollar,"

her sister keeps saying. "Just as good. Better."
"Get your head on your machine," Pauline tells her,

"or there won't be no machine."
Charlie drops coins in the drink slot,

knuckles the Coke button, slides in beside her.
"Ain't nothing free, Treva."

July sun burns through the glass window of the break room.
Not much growing outside but cars, packed tight.

Slide your knife down the inside edge of the jar,
Mama taught her. Gets rid of air, trapped inside.

:: Barbara Presnell, Piece Work
(Cleveland State University Press, 2007)


Sanding Floors

Caught between agriculture and industry
I tread grained rows
I grind up golden dust
triceps flexed and small of back strained
behind a tumbling drum sander
a silver juggernaut with blue sparking motor
ravenous teeth on a roll under my control
short leashed it grumbles
I follow in cloudy plastic goggles
black rubber respirator a filtered trunk
like an elephant-headed deity of the hearth
like an astronaut harvesting the moon
I scour these oaken floors with heavy gravity

36 Grit
Like lamprey's teeth on a steel cylinder
to gouge and tear in long splinters
through the black carpet backing
through the ancient dried glue
through the glaring waxed finish
I grind on through these old boards' tattoos

60 Grit 
More precious now like a
granddad's whiskered cheek
to a goodnight kiss
spun round to ride the channeled waves
knocking off their curls their
whitecaps churned beneath
harnessed horses' hooves and teeth
to flow soft upon the floory shore

100 Grit
Sharkskin smooth for a final run
amber waves of grain all raised
a heightened vibrancy arises
hearts' secrets brought up to the surface
with democratic leveling to stand
equal individual and
nakedly alive

I walk these planks in noise and dust
to make a home out of this house
I am the reaper of rough
I am the sower of smooth

:: W. Joe Hoppe, in Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review #6 (1995)