The ghost of Mother Jones organizes the packing plant in Storm Lake
“Get it right. I’m not a humanitarian.
I’m a hell-raiser.”
—Mary Harris “Mother” Jones
These old bones ache with a fire much hotter than arthritis
As I toddle, stiff-legged and opaque, down the lines
And rows of workers, backs bent over tables.
They swing their round electric knives and curse in Spanish,
And their bones burn, too: the bones, delicate bones
In their wrists and hands; the bones, ragged, rough bones chipped
Loose as their knives tear and gnaw through cold, slippery hog carcasses.
I’ve become a polyglot in the land of the dead&.#8212;
Spanish, Vietnamese, Somali Arabic, Lao, Thai Dam—
All the workers’ tongues, their stories, and the truth
Language knows about sweat: Boss sounds ugly,
Hisses and threatens, no matter what shape it takes in the mouth.
Hermano. Imagine. The skinless hogs all down the length
Of the kill line suddenly begin to snort, blow, and look up at you
With red, glowing eyes. Bristles rise along their backbones,
Sharp scales as hard as the tile on dinosaur hides. Chupacabras.
You work for them, and they devour you.
So I’ll tell you this, in words you know: I’ve come from Hell.
I’ve heard the whistling sound this plant make&s#8212;the whoosh
Of marrow sucked through the hollow center of bone.
Listen. Hermano. I’m coming at last, coming to separate the goats
From those who prey on them, coming to suck this plant clean.
I’ll leave only bones, straight and dry as a shepherd’s staff.