2022 Kaysha’s Choice

Collecting Cash at the Phallic Factory

Valerie Nies

 

It’s the summer before my sophomore year in college 
and I’m sheathed in blue-collared testosterone eyes 
inside a cement cube. A factory of men 
who smell like cigarettes, toxic citrus 
GOJO hand soap, and no-means-yes. I work 
twelve-hour days on an assembly line in August heat alongside stubbly men 
who think I’m there for them, 

not the 16 bucks an hour I will save 
to pay my living expenses in the fall 
at a state university, where I will write essays 
about Mary Wollstonecraft and her Vindication on the Rights 
of Women to work beside men equally, putting parts 
together for excavation equipment. 
Pistons and heads and seals and shafts 
to build masculine mechanical dinosaurs that bore 
holes in dirt, penetrate 
earth for urban development. 

Men who drive big-wheeled trucks silhouetted 
in window decals of impossibly busty women 
with extreme nipples 
and cartoon hair with ends 
that never split. 

I hide 
myself in dialogue. Tell the men I love 
Black Sabbath, I love the Sabbath, 
start every sentence with my boyfriend. 
My boyfriend lifts weights at the gym too. 
My boyfriend likes when I wear a ponytail. 
My boyfriend bought me pepper spray. 

A short one chases me with a spray bottle 
to splash water on my chest, like we are in an 
episode of Three’s Company, 
so I hide myself in the baggiest, cotton t-shirts so the men 
will think I am one of them, forget they thought 
I’m here to tempt them from their wives or temper 
their loneliness from the wives who left them. 

Tell them to turn up the volume, 
I love The Cars I say as they drool and watch me
shove rods inside hydraulic cylinders. They fantasize 
I am pushing them into some kind of metal fleshlight. 

Hide myself in kindness and gifts, pull out 
from my Igloo cooler at lunch by the lockers 
confidence and candy: Twizzlers and Kit Kats 
to distract them, like throwing bread at ducks. 
One day, a tall one corners me, 
says he wants to watch me suck on a lollipop, whip licorice with my tongue, 
choke on chocolate. 

And I’d love to say I called HR or 
that I quit my job, but I did neither. 
And I could give you a file cabinet of excuses: 
it was 1999, my dad worked at the same plant, 
I didn’t want to find out whose side he’d take, all 
the women who came before me had it worse, 
I didn’t know I could find mentors in the generation 
after mine, the younger women who would not 
put up with, would not fumble in hot rage, would not 
boys will be boys away their comfort, would not stay silent, 
would not.

 

 

Collecting Cash at the Phallic Factory

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