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)

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