An interdisciplinary journal about regions, places, and cultures of the US South and their global connections
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  • Packin' Four Corner Nabs

    FOR ALL THE CRACKER PACKIN' GIRLS

    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