Sunday, May 7, 2017

Bearing Witness to the Times: Down at the Plant

The historic Buffalo Cotton Textile Mill in Union County, South Carolina
(Public Domain photo, courtesy of  Wikimedia Commons)

(Headline from Sauk Valley Media)

Down at the Plant

When did you last hear
The morning whistle
Down at the local plant?

Many good Americans
Would give little thought
To who resides in the White House
As long as they could
Wake up in the morning
And put in a shift
Down at the local plant.

This is the sad irony
Of our national struggle today.

The one thing
That has given our country
Its greatest security –
Steady local employment –
Is no longer there.

Agriculture may have given birth
To Middle America,
But manufacturing
Gave it legs to stand on.

Sometimes seen
As mindless repetition
Or a cultural wasteland,
The local plant
Kept small town America humming.

“Will it play in Peoria?”
“Is it good for Main Street?”
These were the questions
That kept our ship of state
On an even keel.

The bustle of New York
And the glitter of L.A.
Were possible only
Because across the heartland
There was a whistle blowing
Down at the local plant.

Not everyone could own farmland,
Or get a college education,
Or find fulfillment
In the bright lights of the city,
But almost anyone
Could get on
Down at the local plant.
It became a fail-safe
For the country.

One by one
They began to leave.
Company bosses
Shipped manufacturing overseas
Leaving the heartland
As desolate as any inner city.

Meanwhile, the college crowd
Made its fortune
And toasted its success
While leaving Main Street
In the shadows.

Meth came to the heartland
Like heroin to the inner city
In vain attempts
To fill a desolate, jobless void.

And so the culture wars rage –
Some wanting to move forward,
Others wanting to go back.
Everyone feeling
The unspoken need
To hear that morning whistle
Down at the local plant.

                                                   ~ CK


Author's Note: I hope that readers do not see this poem simply as a nostalgic look at the past.  If you saw the movie, Norma Rae, or if you read my post about southern mill towns, you know that the cotton mills were no panacea, especially in the non-unionized regions of the country. Those days are gone and there is no going back. The fact remains, however, that though the mills are gone, nothing has taken their place. We have yet to figure out how to bring meaningful work to Middle America and rural America. Until we fill that need, we will likely continue to have trouble in the heartland.  CK  



  1. This one surely speaks. Much truth in that poem.

    1. Thanks, Regina, and thank you for stopping by!


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