Overhead Crane

Insect-click of circuits
clang of struck steel
bells and the vast orange bulk
of the building-wide crane
rumbling forward on charged rails
swinging its fat hook—
an electrified fisherman
of rivets, girders, and grids.

In the plexiglass box below its belly
I squat with my hands full of power,
I’m the brain of this robot—
it moves obedient to my whims,
lives at a lever’s thrust—
I am its slave and its master.
Together we’re an irresistible force,
strongest back in this potline.

Beneath our shadow the pots fume—
double row of giant conductors
riding on bathtubs of bauxite-flux
juggling molecules into aluminum,
alchemy on a mammoth scale—
enough voltage to light a small city
floods and hums here forever.
The air is acrid with smoke and ozone.

The potcrews cough though the passages;
inferno-tenders in Stanfield shirts,
the line dwindles off to infinity.
Red and deadly, the magma bubbles
but I’m above and beyond all that,
safe in this plastic cocoon
breathing filtered air,
fishing for tubs of molten soup.

My robot and I ride herd on hades
but it’s lonely here at the top.
A machine’s not much on conversation.
I’m trapped in an isolation booth,
amuse myself with mad thoughts
like revving up the beast fullbore,
thundering down the monotonous tracks
smashing clean through the wall to freedom.

Or running completely amok
charging off up the line
swinging my hook like a judgment
upsetting ore-trucks, braining foremen.
I’m God in a plastic box.
I’ve been in this smelter too long;
one of these shifts I’m just liable to do it.
Heads up, you bastards—it might be tomorrow!

:: Peter Trower, in Going for Coffee (1981)

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