American Life in Poetry: Column 655


Grace Cavalieri, who lives in Washington, D.C., has performed a great service for American poetry over the past forty years with her public radio show, "The Poet and the Poem." She's also a playwright and a fine poet. Here's a "field trip" poem from her book With, from Somondoco Press. The Grace Cavalieri Reader is available this month from Alan Squire Publications.

The Hot Dog Factory (1937)

Of course now children take it for granted but once
we watched boxes on a conveyor belt, sliding by,
magically filled and closed, packed and wrapped.
We couldn't get enough of it, running alongside the machine.
In kindergarten Miss Haynes walked our class down
Stuyvesant Avenue, then up Prospect Street
to the hot dog factory. Only the girls got to go
as the boys were too wild.
We stood in line, wiggling with excitement as the man
talked about how they made hot dogs, then he handed us
one, and Jan dropped hers, so I broke mine in half.
This was the happiest day of our lives,
children whose mothers didn't drive, and had nowhere
to go but school and home, to be taken to that street
to watch the glittering steel and shining rubber belts moving,
moving meats, readymade.  I wish I could talk with Jan,
recalling the miracle and thrill of the hot dog factory,
when she was alive, before it all stopped—
bright lights, glistening motors, spinning wheels.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2016 by Grace Cavalieri, “The Hot Dog Factory (1937),” from With, (Somondoco Press, 2016). Poem reprinted by permission of Grace Cavalieri and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2019 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.