Vox Populi

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Kristofer Collins: A Poem for Michael Wurster

Michael Wurster once said everyone should write 

a poem about a steel mill, but the mills 

were relics even when I was a boy; the red,

hot pump of this town gone cool and quiet

long before my first kiss. And now this once 

shy sun has revealed itself as a white disc,

clean and ascendant above the grit and haze

watching the motions of the city, why

memorialize the mills? I write mostly of bars,

and sometimes the rivers. Maybe

there is no magic left in the mills. The infernal

roar, the colossal burn that made a dull knife

of the air. The only connection I felt to the mills

was to the children of a generation of flayed men

on unemployment, the storefronts boarded, the city

emptied. The homes of friends blackened 

by despair and made dangerous by depression,

alcoholism, and irrevocable violence.

Since then I have climbed the shadowy bulk

of Carrie Furnace, imagined the deafening blaze,

and took note of each weed now sprouted

where the heavy-shod feet of lonely men

pressed a signature of sorts into the poisoned ground.

So here, Michael, after too many years is the poem

promised your sincere exhortation. Here, finally,

is more air incapacitated with ash. More water

you’d be a fool to drink. Here is a poem

to melt the ground on which you stand.

Copyright 2019 Kristofer Collins

Kristofer Collins’ books include The Liturgy of Streets (Six Gallery Press, 2008).

The Mongahela River, c. 1960 (U. of Pgh archives)

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