The Bra Factory

I try to tell my brother not to call himself a “go-fer”
just because he fetches cardboard 

for women shouting, “Bring me a double order,” 

who get paid by the piece.

A thin vibration against her machine,

Wendy filled 40D cups with tissue paper

and longing until opting for a little more herself.
She used to sew the fine pink bows

till the Singers were hauled out on dollies.
Packaging’s what’s left and Jim hands her the fewest
boxes, her body buckling under the weight. 

Wendy is the quietest 36C the plant has ever seen –
she can wear a skintight mini with a halter 

and never make a sound. Her high, breathless

voice makes no impact among the carping yells –
the broads she’s stacked up against,
the ones who have stuffed bras for twenty-two years,
supporting husbands with a snap of their wrists –
simple as taking off an underwire, long before

we knew about carpal tunnel.

My brother says Wendy gets a hard time
about her clothes, what she reveals 
in the factory’s windowless rooms
about her boyfriend of eighteen years,
how they’ll get married

when he gets a steady job, 

why she lives at home,

why he lives with his mother

why they’ve gone on dates

while six presidents have come and gone
in the White House
and they still say goodnight at the door.
My brother keeps running,
says yes to Wendy 

and the other pleading eyes,
moving too fast to speak
above the conveyor –
brings back tags and boxes
stacked to his temples,
ones he knows will be left
untouched at day’s end.

It’s better than the hobby store –
thirteen years stocking inventory

’til the notice. This is the union
and it’s harder to lose a job
here where the hard part’s already done –
cotton and silk sewn
on in China, flown in crates to loading
dock men in steel-toed boots,
to my brother prying open 

the wooden folds to dangle

the lace and satin – to Wendy’s silent
slip of her wrist – to the women waiting
with plastic tags, America’s last
mark
on the industry, pressed 

in the creases of their raw

bent hands.

Sandee Gertz Umbach is a poet/writer from western Pennsylvania, now living in Nashville. She is the author of The Pattern Maker’s Daughter (Bottom Dog, 2012) and is completing her memoir, Some Girls Have Auras of Bright Colors. She is a PA Council on the Arts fellow, a winner of the Sandburg-Livesay Award, and her poetry collection earned second place in the Working Class Studies Tillie Olsen award competition. She has an MFA from Wilkes University. 

Reprinted from The Pattern Maker’s Daughter: Poems (2012)by permission of Bottom Dog Press and Sandee Gertz Umbach. Copyright © 2012.