I seam towels for Dundee over in Georgia,
a non-union sweatshop with a dozen
rows of them blue glass windows all around.
Some of ’em says it’s like a church.
Been there fourteen years, since just before
me and Hubert said vows at Devotee Baptist.
We’ve been divorced since eighty-four.
Seems he had another woman on the side.
Yessir, I been cold and warmed my hands
at the motor of my jury-rigged machine,
been Florida-hot and deaf from the fans
that don’t do a damn bit of earthly good,
for me at least. I’m right fleshy, as you
can see. Been so hot I’d get the hives
and swell up like sourdough rising, but
I hardly miss a sick day, you understand.
I hate the feel when another woman’s
been sewing on my machine. Substitutes
will break a needle or jack the floating
bobbin out of line. They don’t give a hoot.
It ain’t like they got a steady station
or reputation to uphold. This working’s
almost a moral thing, Preacher Wilkes
would say, like marriage, and every thread
has got to be caught in the hem’s edge
so the whole towel won’t ravel first time
some salesman in a motel or shoe clerk
in his own home after a sweaty day
dries off from a cold shower bath. You see,
I know it don’t take no giant brain
to sit behind a Singer machine and stitch
hour after hour, but I’m proud just the same.
I’m regular as a clock, and I don’t dare fiddle
with another worker’s machine. Some nights
I lie in my bed, once was my mother’s,
and watch the gas flame jump beautiful blue
as the mill’s windows and wonder how many
skins have been wiped dry on my towels,
and whose. It gives me a blushy pride
right on the edge of sleep. I’m over here
tonight with my sister Lily and her husband,
Buddy, supposed to be having a fine time
instead of talking my whole life at you.
This country and western band, specially
the drummer in a blue silk shirt, makes me
want to eat a hot pig’s foot, drink beer,
and shake my tail. Let’s show ’em a thing
or two. You ain’t married just now, are you?