R. G. Bell
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
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.
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