by B.C. Shahan
It’s 7:45 p.m. and break time, but there is no bell.
There is no manager or team leader or whistle to let us know.
There is only an analogue clock.
We shuffle out, the two hundred of us, in silence,
and the footsteps are drowned by the heavy pound of machinery.
I feel old.
I am old.
I’m only twenty-five and I’m old and I’m wondering what I’m doing.
I’m wondering if I’m alone in this.
I fear that I am, and then I look at the man walking beside me
and I know.
He’s an old man.
He’s a bearded man.
His clothes are blue and tattered and greased
by the blood of the factory floor.
There is a pain, a sort of silent regret in his gait,
and his lunchbox,
I’m sure –
carries the same bologna sandwich
with yellow American cheese
that it carried yesterday.
And the day before.
And he is the same as everyone else.
And he is the same as me.
What do I make at the factory?
I don’t know. I take a long piece of bent metal,
and I put it in a press.
I take another long piece of bent metal,
and I put it on top of the first piece.
Then, I press a green button
and a curtain rises
and a machine welds them together.
Sometimes the press gets stuck, and I have to call the old bearded man
to hit some buttons on a screen beside it.
This is me.
And one way or the other, it is you.
So I’m twenty-five and I find myself questioning,
is this how one defines themselves?
How they label their identity?
A green button pusher?
A putter of bent metal into a press?
A devourer of bologna sandwiches with yellow American cheese?
Call it what you want because it is what it is.
The bearded man. This old bearded man twice my age,
he is either naive or a coward.
His price is heavy. It is still living at his age.
the sun is setting over the factory,
and everyone sits in small groups.
I stand alone and to the side against a massive brick wall.
All these people, they all hear their own conversations.
I hear a crowd.
They all sound fine.
B.C. Shahan is a 25-year-old writer living outside of Lexington, Kentucky. After a brief stint working for the local paper, he decided to pursue a career in literature full-time. He describes “The Crowd” as “a blue collared poem for the blue collared breed,” reflective of his thoughts about working for an auto factory in the newly industrial South.