Poetry by Richard Kovac

American Can Company
1929-1969 in memoriam

In "tin can alley"
the workers knew "tin" plate
was a cheaper grade
of steel.
But it was called "tin"
because of historical accident
and lazy definition.
But the dictionary never
worked as hard as them.

"We make the tin cans
and the paraffin milk cartons.
So 'the business' is
sanitary containers.
A hundred million people
need a dozen cans and cartons
each to get thru an average day.
To keep sardines, and tomatoes,
milk, and stew, fruit, and vegetables,
from spoiling.
The work is assembly-line.
With muscular aches, dripping sweat,
bone, anxiety sometimes or patient
mind, as well as the machines,
our labor seams and lids your peaches
with the syrup.
And all the rest of the supermarket

The purchaser will need only a can opener,
"In Chicago the poor can cans;
and whatever they can't can,
they eat."
Jokes like that make the rounds
from the Hoboken plant to the West Coast.

The bosses liked to hire helpless women
to keep the pay scale low -
here, in the Hudson plant,
no longer 'state-of-the-art',
immigrant mothers
continued the labor pangs
for their children;
unionization helped.
Then, some got fat,
and added on 'butter and egg men'
for the newly-invented weekend.
The married men bought homes
and spoilt their children.
Homeliness became cosy,
and cosiness led to glamour
and beauty.
Educating the children became
a pedestal.
To earn it speeded-up assembly lines
have to suffice.
The monotonous machines cause

Work sustains the material universe,
and creates the items
that dwell in its forms.
"Alienated labor" is a paper burn or cut,
or a dent in the tinplate,
or a jam in the machine
that a mechanic can't fix.
The work itself has an actual weight,
depending on "the order".
"A hard day's work would kill you,"
said my mother and her sisters
to me and my education.
The reply to academic "truth"
was the common sense of earned wages
for daily bread.
As one rustles at leisure
upon one's ideas, and codifies
the "theory of forms" in the
high tower,
one may momentarily recall the laborers
who showed such perfect Sanity
of work and love.
Or look up the definition of"sweat"
in some rare index.
Remember them.
Unglamourous American CanCO.
The workers. The wage slaves.
And lift a hammer against your own lazy

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