The Meat Factory
He was young- 20, or 21. He went to university and paid for his studies by taking out a student loan he had no intention of ever paying back. He made some extra money by dealing to his fellow students. In the summer months the students went back to where they had come from and he had to find a job. It wasn’t difficult. He went to an agency and he had soon been offered a job in a factory close to where he lived. The factory made frozen foods- mostly pies and sausage rolls. His shift started at 6 and lasted for 5 hours. The pay was slightly higher than the minimum wage.
He didn’t like having to wake up so early in the morning, but after the first 10 minute struggle he was fine and ready to go. He was young and he didn’t worry too much about sleep. Each evening he would smoke weed with his friends, then fall effortlessly into a deep, lazy slumber. In the morning he woke up slowly, threw some water onto his face, ate some cereal, and was out of the door and on his way to work easily enough.
As the factory dealt with food stuffs he was obliged to wear a white, all-in-one polyester body suit when working there, as well as steel toe capped boots and a hair net. He felt a strange sensation when he wore the suit. He would have been embarrassed to see anybody that he knew, but it wasn’t without an odd sense of pride at being so uniformly prepared to work that he set off each morning.
His favourite part of the day was the drive to work. He left early each morning, but it was summer and so there was always a soft new light to meet him as he opened the door of his flat. He realised, without necessarily thinking too much about it, that he enjoyed his life, and if he were ever to be asked in the future about which part of his life he had enjoyed the most, he would have had to say that it was this period.
In the car he often felt a real pain inside of him when his thoughts found their way to his ex-girlfriend. He was sure that they loved one another and could not understand why it was they had started to hurt each other so much. If this was what love was, he didn’t need it. He heard the voice of his ex-girlfriend’s mother as she told him, teary-eyed, how they were perfect but had just met too young. To think about this too much made him angry and he hit both hands onto the steering wheel as he drove and closed his eyes for a few seconds, until everything went back to a simple blank.
The roads were almost always empty as he drove to work, and the road that led to the factory was long, wide and open. Each morning before his shift he would come around the corner too fast, and then push down with all his force onto the accelerator, leaning his body forward and against the steering wheel, willing the little car to hit its maximum before he took his foot from the pedal, relaxed back into his chair, and coasted the car into the car park of the factory.
The factory was on an estate much like the one where he himself lived. It was a poor place with identical home matching and mirroring identical home, interspersed occasionally by clumps of grass on which kids weren’t able to play because they were all too full of dog dirt. Things here, like most other places, were getting harder as each minute passed, and where once there might have lived some sense of community spirit and togetherness, there was now only fear, CCTV, grilled up windows and suspicion. He could never be afraid to walk these streets by day, if there were any need to, but they were not a place for anyone to walk alone down by night.
His first job in the factory was on the “floor”, as one part of the chain of people that aped the conveyor belt which spat out sausage rolls, semi-frozen and ready to be collected and stacked on trays. The machine that fired out the sausage rolls was huge, absurdly so considering its sole function seemed only to transport such small pieces of food. The centre of the large room was dominated by this machine whose two wide, outstretched, prodigious arms pushed and pulled the food along.
His job was on the side of the of the machine that pushed, and he was to scoop 16 sausage rolls onto his tray, turn and place that tray onto a waiting trolley, then take another tray and return to the conveyor belt to repeat the action.
He looked up the line of the chain to see whether or not any of the younger girls were attractive, they weren’t, but was soon to receive stares of his own as the machine continually backed up as he failed to gather up his rolls in time. Once or twice a kindly woman from the front of the line would rush down to his part to try to help him catch up, but it was an impossible way to continue and he was soon dispatched to another part of the immense building.
Inside a small room on the far-easterly side of the building there was a smaller scaled version of the machine that had too quickly demanded that sausage rolls be collected. In front and to the left side of this machine were thousands of flat, not yet folded boxes. On the right hand side of the room an arm of the heavy machine housed the conveyor belt that pulled the freshly folded boxes up into its heart and from there into some other foreign part of the factory.
There were only 2 women at work in this room and they had been there for over 30 years. They spoke very little and disliked strangers. They explained the construction of the boxes in action rather than word, and then without warning one of them hit a button that put the thunderous mechanics of the beast into motion.
After a short period in the box room it became clear that he was even less suitable for this position than he had been for the previous one. The old women manifested their hatred for him in the speed with which their fervour passed semi-folded boxes toward him, until it became impossible to see them through the disjointed wall of cardboard that was waiting impatiently to be pushed through onto its next station.
He was moved again and his next job was on the opposite side of the factory, with a man who was only slightly older than him, but twice his size. The work here was physically demanding and fast. Here, he and his work mate had to collect, then open huge industrial sized tins of processed meat and vegetables, and empty them into large vats from where they would be then mixed and sent on to the next part of the process. This job was hard and it hurt. His fingers were squashed, his legs were bruised, and his back was constantly twisted and torn. But he kept the pace and had soon gained the respect of his colleague.
If they worked fast, they could gain short, extra breaks, as they waited on fresh orders to arrive from different parts of the factory. In some of those free moments his new friend would talk to him about things they had in common, or programmes on the television. His new friend had recently returned from service in Iraq, but they didn’t talk about that.
One programme that his new friend watched on TV made him angry, because the main actor and creator of the show came from the same estate in which they were working. Most of the action took place in an old social club that was an exact copy of one that used to be open just a few hundred metres from the factory. The creator of the show had taken real life incidents and people from the estate and had put them into a comedy for the audience to laugh at. His new friend was angry at this because he didn’t think it was fair to laugh at people like that, he said that it wasn’t right to make fun of your own.
None of the things in this story are true.
Erin watched the show by accident, but was intrigued by the innocent beauty of the young actor who played the role of the boy, whose story she had half watched and half invented.
The programme was a comedy, or sometimes a drama, and in the next scene the boy took advantage of one of his extra breaks to smoke a joint at the fire exit door. He then went to collect the ingredients for the next order from a huge walk in freezer and decided to sit down to relax for a moment more. He sat down at the back of the freezer, fell asleep and froze to death.
She understood abstractions and irony and believed that to laugh was almost always better than to cry, but this night she knew she needed to cry. She cried for the lost promise of the silly frozen boy, she cried for the dumb servitude of the old women in the box room, she cried for herself, and she cried for all the canned laughter resounding hollowly around the world.
G. David Schwartz
Doggerel doggerel flamboyant humeral
Just me thinking out of my chest
Waiting for something a little bite best
Doggerel doggerel hoggeral fogerall
Don’t mean a thing to this ho tam boggier
on a borderline
the morning smells of anxiety
and love is far from my dusty
windows, only parasites live there
and mourning becomes a myth,
beneath the cold restless ground,
where cancer grows on withered
death is needy today and suicide
a blanket of darkness lies over
the sunlight, sheltered from the
storm by god’s tedious fingers
the fear of the womb makes me
crave a father even more,
incest is nice sometimes and
borderline is a disease from the
fictional drugged tomb
but we still live on it like a used
face full of wrinkles
He comes in on a Sunday morning, the dirty overalls and grimy sweatshirt. Down into the
basement that was once so nice, all remodeled back in the day, and now little used.
Nobody even noticed the sewer had backed up, until it was a huge fucking mess. So they
called him. Filthy foul-smelling water everywhere, several inches deep, the stench enough
to make you gag, and little turds floating around in the brown muck. Reminds him of the
old plumbers joke “good thing rich people’s shit doesn’t stink.” Smiles to himself, wishes
it was true.
You take a little bucket, scoop it full, and dump it into a big five-gallon bucket. When
that’s full you lug it up the stairs, outside and dump it, away from the house. Go back
down the stairs and start scooping again. They leave you alone, don’t wanna watch.
Surely the missus woulda said “can’t you…maybe dump that into the street, or down
into the sewer; just, not in the back yard for heaven’s sake.” Surely she woulda, but it’s
so foul, they don’t wanna be around. Pretend it never happened, like its somebody else’s
So they leave you alone, to do your work. Your work, yeah…your life’s work. And
your mind wanders when you’re scooping sewage. Not much you really need to focus on,
just don’t miss the bucket, is all. But there was a time, he thinks, there must have been a
time, sometime, when people scooped their own shit. When was that…homesteaders
maybe, farmers out on the prairie, or back in the feudal days of England , Europe . People
made a fucking mess…and had to clean it up themselves, if they wanted it clean. Couldn’t
just hire somebody else to do it for you. Everybody was kinda, equal, in a way. All in the
same shit together. And then somehow, it all changed.
His grandmother had made candles, milked cows, sewn all the clothing for her kids. His
grandfather had built a cabin, by hand, out on the prairie, the wilderness. And that’s all
gone now. People don’t do that anymore. You take a shit on a porcelain throne, push a
lever and it’s gone. And if it ever comes back up at you, you call somebody else to clean
up the mess. Very strange, this…diversification of labor.
And it’s everywhere, everything. Somebody makes your fucking food you eat, all you do
is…heat and serve. And the dishes wash themselves. Somebody makes your clothes, and
the machine you wash them in; unless you take them to the cleaners. It’s very fucking
weird. How did this all come to be. And why are some the shit cleaners, and others aren’t.
Not like there’s a preference here. Like some people just naturally gravitate towards
cleaning other people’s toilets. “Hey Joey, whatcha gonna do when you get outta school?”
“Oh, I dunno, maybe clean toilets, something like that.” “Hey…cool.” “Yeah, m’little sister
wants t’become a prostitute, but…not sure her grades are good enough, y’know.”
Fuck it…the land of the free, y’know, the home of the brave. But, it’s like it was all
planned out, somehow. Like some people are too good, to become shit suckers. Others…
they just, don’t have any choice. Like “y’wanna shovel coal, or shovel shit? Take yer
pick, I ain’t got all day.” How is that. Schools…preparing people, little kids, innocent little
kids, to fail. While the rich little motherfuckers sit there so smugly, knowing instinctively that
years from now, they gonna have a big fucking house, big fucking car; and gonna call you
when their sewer backs up. “Yeah, Joey…shit all over the place, come over fast as you
can, if you don’t mind. Yeah, I know its Sunday. Fuck, I gotta go to church. See yah in a
And it’s their shit. But they don’t have to clean it. They can pay somebody else to do that.
Not like “hey man, I’m sorry, but that’s your shit. I ain’t gonna clean it, you clean it, man.
Came outta your ass, not mine.” No…when you’re the designated shit sucker, that’s what
you do. You suck shit. And it’s like, if you’re not rich, the whole system sucks shit. And
who would make it like that. Who would make a system like that. ‘Cause, most people
aren’t rich, so most people gonna be fucked. And why would anybody put up with shit
like that. Man, it’s weird. Doesn’t make any sense.
The plumber thinks about the rich motherfucker, sitting there in the pew in church, listening
to the sermon “and God made a lot of poor stupid fuckers…so they could serve the rich.
And He looked down and saw that it was good. Amen.” Fuck, man, this isn’t a life. It’s
like you’re serving a life sentence. For what. Somebody else’s shit.
in front of the window
in this summer Sunday morning
how I came to this?
throwing sesame seed
in the room
and thinking about Siberia
as the ravens outside on the wires
try to scream at me
but I don’t scream back
because they have places for people
who do that
and my life is something like
a meat chewed down to the bone
upon this earth I keep dreaming about
Babylon and Cleopatra
and I know that the summer in Rome is green
and the winter in Russia is too much vodka.
how long can we carry on?
upon this land
with this wasted air in my lungs
we keep dreaming for better days
we keep dreaming for salvation
as someone winks at us.
There’s still meat to these bones
Squeezed like pulp from a ripe orange
Steroid injection metaphors
Grow like a malignant tumor
Deep inside the gut where
No cancer can reach them
These words that scream out for
A necklace of poems
Like a street hawker transcending
A cold winter
No longer a hungry beggar
No longer a lost sailor
In a leaking life raft
Floating aimlessly at sea
Wed to these words
Like a nurse holding on to the hand
Of a dying man
Stanley H. Barkan
No lottery this June,
No corn heavy soon.
No, this summer solstice
harbors no promise
of rich crops.
But June bugs buzz about
the trail where milkweeds flourish,
Monarchs suck at the sap,
their black-and-orange wings fluttering.
Anthills are plentiful,
the rows and rows of black dots
centrally determined missions.
Yes, there are apple blossoms,
clouds of white petals
scattered amidst the silk and lace.
And, yes, there’s laughter in the little leagues.
This time all swings are strikes,
all bets are off.