by Susan Elbe

The Summers, Like Tomatoes

Chicago, 1958

Just before night cracks its dark husk and spills into light, the night shift from Campbell’s Soup factory punches out. In a slow ferment of August heat, Black men at the bus stop, stewed down and shining with sweat, glow like foil in the haze of streetlights. Flicking their Zippos to Camels, they inhale blue smoke to scour the sharp taste of acid from their tongues.

The great factory boilers ka-chunk and hiss white steam. Eighteen-wheelers downshift and ease around corners, their brakes whistling under the weight of love fruit, its acrid perfume settling in our damp sheets and skin, oiling the haywire gears of our dreams.

First appeared in Atlanta Review (Winter, 2003)