It's Been A Hard Day's Night

On the Assembly Line
by Virgil Suarez

Cousin Irene worked in the cold of a warehouse
basement in New Jersey, soldering the filaments
to GE lightbulbs. The job required steady hands,
without gloves, bare fingers for sensitivity,
and her hands cramped up eventually, after six
hours or so, but the workday lasted ten or twelve,
in so much cold. This was her life for several
years in America—back home, in Cuba, she'd been
a chicken sexer, a botanist caring for orchids,
a potato peeler, a cigar ring paster, a picker
of papayas—all as a volunteer worker because she
wanted to leave the country. So in Trenton,
Union City, Elizabeth, at least she got paid
for the work she did with her hands, though her
choices continued to be blue-collar work, and she
thanked god for her hands, her reliable hands,
so necessary. She came to the United States
through the Peter Pan Project as a teenager
with the promise of a scholarship to an all-girl
boarding school in Kentucky, which never
materialized—she got as far as New Jersey.
Here, at night, she came home from the factory
and soaked her hands in warm soapy water.
She looked on as her fingers moved, these tendrils
of her once young hands—blessed these ten digits
that rooted her life to so much work and possibility.


  1. I take it you've worked your fingers hard today too. Hope you get some rest.

  2. So beautiful, the words and the photo you selected to accompany them.
    I've always had old hands, letting the sun have its way with them early on and discovering gloves for work too late. They do tell their own story.....

  3. Beautifully written. Bless your hands and heart as well.

  4. A few year back, I heard Virgel Suarez read at the University Of Pittsburgh. The students adored him so. They provided pepsi and pizza to celebrate this significant American poet's tremendous reading. Then, they huddled around him like bees drawn to honey. His kind eyes responded. His gentle heart. He said almost like a good father would, "This is really great pizza. Really good." This brought the students joy. He understood them. All of the unwritten codes within them.


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