Routine work at $1.25 an hour

We sat in rows along a wooden bench.
Each place equipped with metal stick,
lever, and a bulb. Our task: to count the slip straps,
to package them in sets of twenty-four.

The drill was simple. You slid the slip strap
down over the metal stick. Each time you did
you hit the lever with a click. Click click, click click,
click, click. Twenty four and then the light stayed on.

Click click, click click. Juanita and I were hired
to pack the straps. We laughed and practiced
Spanish as we slapped the multi-colored slips
of cloth down on the growing stack. Click click,

click, clack. For us it was a lark. July and August,
fat beads of sweat crawling down our backs. On Route 110
squat factories nestled, lacking light and air, swallowed
in the dull roar of low flying planes. We tracked

the days on calendars of windowpanes and clocks
of tapping feet. After each bundle of twenty four,
we wrapped them with a rubber band and laid
them in a box, dusky slivers of color, traveling

incognito, a cardboard box of silly strands looking
for the remainder of the garment: the strapless slip.
I was horrible at this. I missed the light and clicked
and clicked until my pile overflowed the stick.

I couldn’t make my quota. Juanita slipped me bundles
from her box when the super turned her back. Click
clack, click clack. Dark haired girls worked beside us.
Twins. One so pregnant her wrinkled smock rubbed

against the bench. One morning she came in with one eye
bruised, a puckered lip. No questions. Just click and click.
They hated us. In the listless room, where we ate our twenty
minute lunch, they laughed behind their hands and turned

their backs whenever we sat down. I don’t know how,
but the manager found out that we had other plans,
did not expect to keep on clicking straps, but wanted to
escape this clacking mess come September. He fired

us and we went out the door and stood beside the highway
carousing in the sun, drunk on an early release, our fingers
like the wild wheat of fall, waving and ready for the harvest,
streaming like threads of silk in conquered air.

Published in:
Verse Wisconsin (Summer 2010)