R. G. Bell

Rookie - 150 Points (6/15/52)

Lockhartites - Poem by R. G. Bell

(Lockhart is, was, a cotton mill village in SC.)


They're spawned in a gene pool
As old as the windowless plant
Reigning over mill village houses
Stuck in the west bank of the Broad,
Their bedrooms a source of labor.

It's said the children are born
With plugs in ears and lint in hair.

They smooth edges of concrete steps
And pace the warping pinewood floors
Their great-grandparents paced when flat.

They bolt pintos and greens and coffee
With nabs, and cut their lunch break short
Because machines with glaring red lights call,
Demanding cotton fiber from their feeders.

They come, with paper cups in hand
Full of cotton waste and brown thick spit.

They mount the stairs to red light machines
Like sailors mount stairs to red light dreams,
With the urgency of the damned.


Poet's Notes about The Poem

Lockhart is a small village on the Broad River in northern South Carolina, about midway between the towns of Union and Chester. The cotton mill was established there in the 1890's and the village was built at the same time for the sole purpose of housing the employees.

Generations grew up and worked there.

In short, it was the model of a company town.

I worked there for two years, and lived in a village house with its' helpful resident ghost. But that is another story.

This poem describes life there. Henry David Thoreau might have recognized it as one of 'quiet desperation.'

Some terms may not be familiar to all readers. To 'bolt' one's food means to eat very quickly, not so much for enjoyment as for simply taking on fuel. Of course, 'bolt' defined as a piece of hardware in machinery also parallels poetically when talking about the machine-driven lives of the people.

'Pintos' is a popular variety of bean and and 'greens' in Lockhart was usually collards, a garden vegetable somewhat similar to spinach.

'Nabs' (a NABiSco product, hence the name) are the 6 pack of crackers often found in vending machines and lunch boxes; virtually the same as the rival Lance brand.

The use of snuff was common among both men and women in Lockhart. This necessitated the use of paper cups (containing absorbent cotton waste) as a portable spit receptacle. Highly functional, but just as unappealing as you think it would be.

Red lights on machines signaled that they had either quit working or were nearly out of material to process. Because pay was based partly on production, employees usually cut allowed breaks short to tend to them.

For 'urgency of the damned' see Dante.

The mill was closed several years ago and has since been razed. The village is still there, but the people commute to work elsewhere, often in other mills.

Before you conclude such lives of quiet desperation no longer exist, take an honest look around. You might well be in one yourself and not even realize it.

Comments about Lockhartites by R. G. Bell

  • Bri Edwards (11/22/2013 2:33:00 PM)


    R.G., GREAT poet note you've added. it clarifies 'nabs' for me and i thought the cups were for upchucking mill dust caught in workers' throats. i hear snuff can be rough....on a body, like other tobacco is sometimes. yuck!
    [of course one still reads once in a while about sweat shops (illegal) in the u.s. of a.] thanks for sharing, especially that you worked there as well. bri :)
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  • Bri Edwards (11/20/2013 9:20:00 PM)


    where have you been R.G.? i suppose you've been where you are now. i'm just a little late reading this.
    i really enjoyed this. you make history come alive here. poor fellas (and gals?) (probably) . i got a bit mixed up when i read bolt pintos; i thought about bolting together Pintos (i believe there was such a car, but they were probably welded) . and i think your use of nabs (as a noun) is poetic license, which you (and i) deserve.

    i just reread the last stanza:

    They mount the stairs to red light machines
    Like sailors mount stairs to red light dreams,
    With the urgency of the damned.

    i didn't understand red light dreams at first reading. NOW I UNDERSTAND! and i liked especially the birth description and the cups part. yuck. ha ha, not. thanks for sharing. it is nice to read a poem in which the poet uses punctuation the way i was taught to use it. to MyPoemList it goes........... bri :)
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  • Valerie Dohren (4/14/2012 5:15:00 AM)


    Great poem. I live in the North West of England where there were once many cotton mills and their legacy remains. Interesting to read. (Report) Reply

  • (4/13/2012 3:11:00 PM)


    A very very strong poem, Gordon. Certain turns of phrases in it have my utmost admiration. And how very much more you know about these people than you say I can imagine. The weight of that knowledge certainly counts in this poem. Top drawer! (Report) Reply

  • (4/13/2012 1:04:00 PM)


    A really great poem, there used to be a lot
    of working mills round my area when i was a kid.
    There all gone now. A great write.
    (Report) Reply

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Poem Submitted: Friday, April 13, 2012

Poem Edited: Monday, December 2, 2013


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