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Of Cobbler And Unions

by Michael Ratcliffe

She insisted on dinner first—
fried chicken, corn bread, butter beans,
and glasses of cold sweet tea—
and then they could talk about
bringing the union into the pickling plant.
Dinner finished, she served dessert,
and then she and the union organizer,
sat at the kitchen table and made plans.
They wrote out demands;
discussed strategies between bites
of her peach cobbler.

In her grandmother’s time
she would have had a cook
to prepare dinner and dessert.
In her great-grandmother’s time,
she would have been waited upon
and would not have sat in the kitchen
when visitors came calling.
But, those times were gone.
In her mind she kept a list
of all that had been lost,
determined that she would lose no more.
She was a strong woman,
willing to take on the plant’s bosses,
toughened by years of dealing
with a hard-drinking husband
worn thin by reaching
for any work that paid.

The union rep knew he should not talk
of capital and labor, or the role
of the proletariat in history—
not with her patrician past.
If he wanted to unionize the plant
he would have to listen to her.
And, he knew that he had better
eat a second helping of her cobbler.

Michael Ratcliffe is a geographer who lives and writes between Baltimore and Washington. Through his mother, he has roots in Arkansas and Texas, and his childhood included long drives from Maryland to his grandparents’ house in Texarkana. His poems have appeared most recently in the Free State Review, Commonthought Magazine and Kumquat Poetry. He can be found online at

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