by Maj Ragain
In Olney, Illinois, the hillbilly ghetto, about a four block square, is named Goosenibble. Everybody in town knows the name; nobody knows where it came from. Except that the area, just south of the B&O tracks, has always had to do with poultry. The Kralis chicken processing plant was there for years, up through the late '70's, shipping noodles and broth to Campbell's. The plant moved to Arkansas, and Goosenibble slid a little closer to the edge. Most folks went to work down on Boone Street. That's where the unemployment office is. Say where you workin'? Down on Boone Street. For 26 weeks or so. Sign up every two weeks. Money comes in the mail.
But now there is hope in Goosenibble. A new turkey processing plant is open this week in the old Kralis building. And everybody knows turkeys are a step up from chickens. Truckers will haul thousands of turkeys into town, whole cities of Thanksgiving stacked crate on crate. The local poultry joke is that when they get someone new on the killing line, the old timers, washed in the blood themselves, pull this one: Now, the best way to make money here is to work fast so when the plucker gets done and hands you the turkey, you take your bare hand and shove it in the turkey's behind. It won't feel like it'll go, but keep tryin'. Run it all the way through 'til you get ahold of his neck, then jerk him wrong side out. Just dump the guts in the bucket and hand the turkey on down the line. Used to be a one-armed man here named Clint who could make a hundred dollars a day just like that, piecework, and never drew his knife. The whole plant would shut down to watch that green boy do his first turkey.
These aren't your Honeysuckle, all breastmeat, primetime turkeys, with the built in little red flag that pops up when they're done in the oven, not the one the rosy cheeked, smiling grandma serves at the Thanksgiving groaning board. These are what they call spent turkeys, too old to lay, too tough to bake, too gone to celebrate with. These are the ones you find in your bowl of soup, the noodle, the dumpling, the meltdown they call broth. This is where the turkey stops.
I did know a woman who worked at the Kralis plant. She'd walk up the tracks, two blocks, to the South End Tavern and drink Black Velvet. Usually she woudn't wash up either, wore her blue rubber boots and hard hat and long green killing coat. She was six feet tall, skinny enough to walk on air, ski footed, a voice that clanged. InaMae. One word. InaMae Bagwell. If I were making this up, I'd go ahead and say that she wrote poems in chicken blood on the restroom walls and that she carried a coatpocket full of chicken hearts and dropped them in the drinks of the unbelieving. But I am trying to tell the truth here.
She had an old man, a real old guy who rode a bicycle with a rusted wire basket. He leaned it against the front of the South End Tavern. He couldn't get his InaMae to come home after work. Every night, he'd have to go to the bar and haul her skinny butt home. It was a scene nobody liked. One night, he'd had enough. He drug her out of there and because InaMae was too drunk to go any further, he left her on the back steps of his house. He went and got a shovel and a fifty pound bag of Sakrete concrete mix. He dug a hole, stuck her feet in up to her knees, mixed the Sakrete with water and poured it in. He went to bed with a satisfied mind, the concrete was setting hard and InaMae was passed out, a prisoner of sweet love.
When he checked on InaMae an hour later, she was gone. He tracked her as far as the South End Tavern, peered through the front window and there she was, wearing twenty pound concrete boots and trying to dance with a glass of Black Velvet.
He didn't even bother to go in. The war was over for him. I heard that he passed away a year or so later. I haven't seen InaMae in a while. If she is still in this world, she'll be working at the turkey plant in Goosenibble. On the line.
Next time some smart guy pulls my sleeve to tell me that Love is two solitudes protecting, touching and greeting each other, that Love is the drama of completion, I'm gonna nod and say you got that right, brother. I'm not gonna try to tell him about InaMae Bagwell, spent turkeys, concrete and how hard it is to hold onto a woman.
(This poem was published in the "Fresh Oil, Loose Gravel", by Maj Ragain, Burning Press 1996.)