then The Sun This Morning : one round, middle C
Reading poems from The Great Fires, some of them in earlier versions, Jack Gilbert looks back on the loves and solitudes of a life lived acutely, seen in terms of the Pittsburgh steel mills where he worked as a youth
A falling down, bullet-pocked sheet metal wall
Once erected to mark the edges of the
South Side Jones and Laughlin steel mill
In a flashy white-straw hat, leaning on his bright red metal cane, step-by-step silently making his way to a seat at the podium, Stern commanded the audience without a word.
I wander through the rusting bulk
of Carrie Furnace and reach toward the ghosts of
Eastern European men who worked with fire
and molten ore for pennies a day to build the Empire
I could talk
Two hours past midnight with
My father in the steelworker
Idiom of his city.
Says she has purchased space
In the Garden of Dreams,
Which, so far, leaves me out
Where back in the corner, there’s always some guy in a Pirates ballcap with skin like an old leather shoe who’s nursing the cheapest beer on tap….
Standing, a girl-boy, on the junked car in the dump,
some other kids across the dump standing on their cars
When I was a child,
I used to hear of this faraway place
where my people came to drown
themselves in search of America.
I will die in Pittsburgh on a beautiful day…
The old man and the blonde woman smiled and waved at me, and I felt a surge of gratitude to be among such decent people in this lovely city in a dark time when the light of kindness seems so rare.
I have come a thousand miles for this. J&L’s ruins, a gravel plain on the Ohio’s west bank. There’s little left but an archeology of memory—smokestacks, ovens, foundry, smelter, slag. … Continue reading →
Photograph by W. Eugene Smith, c. 1955 . Bug-eyed in those glare-filled goggles, He’s gauntleted and cassocked, garbed To be garbed in fire, which forms a lake On the floor … Continue reading →