Women Making Cigarettes
Engaged and newly married women left home
for the workshop just after sunrise, the sky pinkish-golden.
A pocket of rubles, a growing fortune, jiggled
in their tobacco-stained fingers, like a luck charm.
The young, shaven, socialist man–the owner
who spoke Russian instead of Yiddish–
angered over the local learned men who studied
rather than work. The women listened as he spoke.
Not yet mothers, their bodies said.
Their wrists at the long, cold table’s edge,
stiff and poised. They wore long chain necklaces,
hair pinned back. Their forced smiles
slid into their smooth, pale cheeks.
They spent sunlit hours toiling, measuring, spreading
tobacco into papers, rolling them tight, stacking them
in a pyramid in the center of the worktable.
They would still punch dough
late in the dull evenings, though,
their tainted fingers playing
the role of kitchen wife
as a sleepy sister took note from a stepstool.
Out the window, they observed skinny boys
leaning on hay bales, cigarettes tucked behind their ears,
and wondered what it would be like to have sons.
Men walking home parted their lips
for the sharp inhale, the little flame escaping
rolled paper, ash flicked to the ground, the cigarette
turning into a woman’s finger.