Tuesday, April 27, 2010

poems for the plant closing

Ellen Sander photo

The Last Sardine Plant Is Closing

It is afternoon.
Classical trumpets yellow
out of a German radio.
There is a football game,
or about to be,
and I can't remember
if it's on the color set downstairs
that sometimes smokes,
or on the tiny black-and-white
with a screwdriver for the volume.

I am four
and for the first and last time
that I can recall, my father
unkeys the tin,
cranes out to me
something tarnished siver,
dripping oil and so tasty.

I don't know now
if I'd like them anymore.
I've never tried.

Carter Ruff

Poor Prospects in Prospect Harbor

Outside the Stinson plant mute
and motionless stands the giant
seafarer clad in a slicker
holding a tin of Beach Cliff sardines
just like dad used to peel open
after coming home late from
peddling fruits and vegetables
in the streets of Manhattan.

Inside it's all noise and clatter
the women's flashing hands dart
attack schools of silvery cans
conveyed by in a ceaseless stream
paced by buzzers and bells
packing the herring to bed
like too many siblings in cramped
quarters to their final sleep.

Nancy's not ready to retire
just yet at seventy
after forty four fast years
"I could work another ten
I don't know anything else
don't want nothing with computers
don't have one, don't want to learn"
Three daughters and a sister
have been on the same line
paid by the number of cans
you could make 19 bucks an hour

good work found on the Maine coast
not much else to speak of
in Hancock County which once
boasted its own Cannery Row-
my dog eared Bantam paperback
that cost my old man a quarter
Steinbeck's picaresque story
clanked out on his Remington
twice a historical oddity.

The corporate buzz at Bumble Bee
is shuttering this last one
while Ernie fixes everything
takes his cat home a free can
"I'm saving lives here."

Lela's fifty four years had
started when scissors cut fish
before machines offed their heads.
She was looking forward to
celebrating her eightieth
birthday there in two more years.
"I thought this would be here for
generations to come."

The final break is over.
In three hours fifteen minutes
Lulu and Alma packed
five thousand two hundred
and twenty eight sharp cans
some kind of record
for the end of the line.

Michael Bell

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