Skip to main content

Poetry on the Picketline Paycheck Babes by Fred Voss

We found ourselves in families when we were babies
never really knowing how we got there now
25 or 30 or 55 years later we find ourselves in this machine shop
because we saw a help-wanted ad in a newspaper or on a computer
we park our toolbox at a machine we will spend more time next to
than our own wife or child and if we thought we had left our father
far behind us in life suddenly he comes barreling
out of a glass bullpen in the figure of a foreman telling us what to do
across the street from a graveyard or a bowling pin factory
or a tin building full of drop forges pounding the earth with shock waves
and sending clouds of hot steam toward the sky
we try to make a home next to each other
Buddhists atheists Vietnam veterans Vietnam war protesters
Guamanians Hungarians surfers medical school dropouts gun lovers
card casino addicts murderers flying saucer believers
we bump into each other between our machines and try to get along
brothers in machine grease and tapping fluid and cutter speed and feed charts
and paychecks we grow gray together memorize the moles
on the backs of each other’s necks watch each other tape photos
of grandchildren to our toolbox lids mention our mother
starving in El Salvador or the Turkish sword that murdered our grandfather
in his backyard in Armenia as presidents and wars and hairstyles come and go
we laugh whenever we can because there is gravity and television
and undertakers with bad toupees bring in pans of eggrolls for everyone to eat
spar as our machines run like we are boxers on the way to the top
ex-brahma bull riders ex-skid row winos ex-cons ex-Marines survivors
of Haight-Ashbury or Scientology or knife-pulling wives or crazy bosses
or loneliness so sharp it almost slit our wrists we slap each other’s backs
as Friday paychecks are slipped into our hands and stride out that tin
factory door and fire up our cars brothers of wrench and crane
and muscle and sweat and grunt heading for a horizon  
that makes us all feel like brand-new babes again.

Fred Voss has been a machinist for over 30 years and as a poet chronicles and reflects on his working life in numerous outstanding collections. He lives in Long Beach, California, and works for a living in a nearby factory.

Poetry on the Picket Line is a squad of like-minded poets putting themselves about to read their work on picket lines, in the spirit of solidarity. Invitations to rallies etc. welcome, contact The new Poetry on the Picketline anthology is available at




We're a reader-owned co-operative, which means you can become part of the paper too by buying shares in the People’s Press Printing Society.

Become a supporter

Fighting fund

You've Raised:£ 2,777
We need:£ 15,223
30 Days remaining
Donate today