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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).