Vox Populi

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Mel Packer: The Bend on the River Road from Homestead

J.& L. Steel Works, south side of Pittsburgh. All gone now. (Photo: Robert Dorsett)


A falling down, bullet-pocked sheet metal wall

Once erected to mark the edges of the 

South Side Jones and Laughlin steel mill

Now holding back memories behind it

Sadder memories painted on it

A jilted lover

A retiree whose life’s love died

A millworker sacrificed to the army of the unemployed

When J & L closed….forever

Hard to believe, hard to read

Careening around the bend on the

River road from Homestead and

Abruptly pummeled with

“I loved her so much”

I never knew her

But I’ve never forgotten nor forgiven

Like the despairing artist

My failure to stop and record the image

And to share with the world

How much I loved her.


Author’s Note: This is something I’ve been thinking about for decades. From sometime in the late 70s until the J & L SouthSide steel mill was closed in the late 80s and then demolished in the early 90s, rusty sheet metal panels bordered East Carson Street and marked the edge of the J & L mill. I drove by it probably hundreds of time and each time was almost newly struck and saddened by a hastily spray painted phrase which seemed to cry all by itself from that wall. “I loved her so much” never failed to move me and to once again wish I knew its story. I also reminded myself with each passing that I needed to bring a camera and take a photo, but….I’m still reminding myself. It’s gone. Who knows if the anguished soul is gone as well. But to this day, I cannot come around that curve without seeing it again in my mind. 

Mel Packer is a peace, justice and environmental activist, as well as a retired member of the Teamsters Union. He lives in Pittsburgh.

3 comments on “Mel Packer: The Bend on the River Road from Homestead

  1. Loranneke
    January 31, 2023

    Such nostalgia! Beautiful.


  2. John Zheng
    January 31, 2023

    Enjoyed reading this poem. Thanks for sharing.


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