Degrees of Gray in Youngstown

You might come here some weekday because you
have to. The last job you had you lost last week.
You walk downtown, past warehouses so long
empty that nobody remembers their names. You stand
in line with others. Now hiring, the sign says.
100 jobs, 3,000 applicants. The jail is packed,
filled past capacity. Nobody likes to be here.

The main business is conducted in the Phar-
Mor center. Ironic considering the problems
of the company. Ironic. The city speaks of unemployment.
The mills stand alone. The beautiful
stone courthouse. Homeless standing in its shadow.
Shadows of great mills, once spewing smoke
and flame. Nothing but shadows. Gray. Nobody
likes to be here.

This is your history. When you graduate, “Where
will you move?” people ask. Why must I move? This
is my history! When you travel people must know
of Youngstown. “Oh yes, where the mills used to be.”
The Pentagon is coming, or is it? Avanti? The church bells
echo. Nobody likes to be here.

Where did it go wrong? How did plans change? The move just
started one day. Some to Boardman, some to
Poland, some to Canfield. The jobs left,
but they didn’t take the workers. They are
still here. The steel mills left. The skeletons
remain. Dinosaurs of long ago. And the shadows.
Gray. Nobody likes to be here.

:: Jeff Ortenzio, in Mahoning Valley Poetry: An Anthology (1993)

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