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Wednesday, October 21, 2020


by Philip C. Kolin

Above: Family members of JBS USA meat packing plant employee Saul Sanchez watch as his casket is lowered during his funeral after he died of Covid-19 in Greeley, Colo., on April 15, 2020.Jim Urquhart / Reuters via NBC

“Meatpackers deny workers benefits for virus-related deaths, illnesses.” 
NBC, September 29, 2020

Upton Sinclair is roiling in his grave.
Things have not changed in Packingtowns
across America. Covid has just made them worse.

The virus works well in these damp, cold, sun-
blocked meat processing plants where droplets can settle 
and slay much longer. Gigantic fans whirl and spread 
saturated foul air as workers breathe each other's
infected coughs and sneezes.  Loud machinery demands
they must talk louder and farther to announce Covid's arrival.

All in cramped spaces.
Packed shoulder to shoulder, workers have to
butcher in non-stop 10-12 hour shifts, no plexiglass
or strip curtains between them. Processing lines
move at race car speeds, leaving workers even  more
vulnerable thanks to exhausted breath, great Covid hosts. 
It's a lung-breaking job. And sharing knives
and hammers means shaking hands with coworker Covid.

Like the animals they eviscerate and de-hide,
these meat processing workers leave the plant
with slaughtered lives, their lungs and hearts offal.

It's a jungle in these plants.

Philip C. Kolin is the Distinguished Professor of English (Emeritus) and Editor Emeritus of the Southern Quarterly at the University of Southern Mississippi. He has published more than 40 books on Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, Edward Albee, African American playwrights as well as ten collections of poems. His most recent books are Reaching Forever: Poems in the Poiema Series of Cascade Books and, forthcoming from Main Street Rag, Delta Tears.