Steelworkers' Lockers, Pittsburgh History Center

The Forlonrnness of Metal they might just as well
Be titled, these salvaged relics, props from a set
Long struck--the lap-welds and louvers
And green latch-locked doors bolted in line
In assembly, each the width of a man crammed in
Or hung in parts as in effigy. The bench hard
As a pew. Beyond, the mills were medieval,
Rows of stoves set four to the furnace, chimneys
In groves, hoists where they elevated the stock.

In the locker room, at the start of each shift,
Shucked aluminum suits got lowered on pulleys
From their ceiling roosts. We changed into
Forge-proof shoes, the hardhat's Day-Glo halo,
And stepped among flames, out into the annealing,
Where the world was turned to steel.

:: Robert Gibb, World Over Water (Arkansas 2007)


Children's Unit Blues

It ends with Louis Armstrong banned from the children's ward.
The Armstrong tape I left behind banned from the children's ward.
The newest memo protects our children from "It's a Wonderful World."

It begins with Hector Baptiste, nine-year-old from New Orleans,
The music wars begin with Hector, black kid from New Orleans,
Quickmarched to time-out when his taunts get too obscene.

He says his therapist hates him,, he swears that I'm a queer.
He promises he'll kill us both if it takes a hundred years.
Then he's calling his mother, the bitch who dumped him here.

The supervisor wants Vistaril to silence Hector's shouts.
Wants Vistaril to drug him up, she's sick of all the shouts.
I put on Coltrane's "Alabama," see if that'll drown him out.

At first it's just more noise, the horn and Hector's screech,
Tenor sax is clashing with the boy's shrill screech,
Then a violent sort of beauty wobbles just out of reach.

A moment comes when screams & sax both rise up together.
A moment when the shouts & horn both lament together.
Then a whole grief world glides above this corridor.

John Coltrane's got it all down, hopeless and shining.
Somehow Coltrane's got it down, all the pain one dark shining.
Trane's talking soft, Hector shuts up, listening.

Hector's in the time-out room pretending he's got a horn,
Leaning on the padded walls he's wailing on a phantom horn,
He's playing out each rotten year he's known since he was born.

Surprised to see him settle down, I put on a tape of Armstrong.
Coltrane's done, try one more tape, sweet raasps of Louis Armstrong.
What else can I give him? His stay here won't be long.

Oh, let the unit director have her senseless final word.
She thinks she's going to help by censoring songs and words.
Hector, blues come like a thief, hold fast to what you heard.

:: Theodore Deppe, in Nebraska Review (2000)



In this part of Pennsylvania, roads run along
streambeds, or beside the narrow tributaries
the highest ridges conceal when they turn
their faces to the north or south--creases

marked the length of their long necks, ravines
as beautiful as the shadowed space at the base
of a woman's throat. In these little-traveled
places, the men who have been without work

for weeks and weeks take their trucks out
into the dark to find deer, to capture them
in the gaze of their highbeams, so they might
kill, come back to their homes with more

than the defeated faces they wear as they pay
for milk and bread with food stamps, their few
real dollars laid down for a pack of Camels
they'll smoke as they gut the animal in the barn,

taking what they can, dumping the rest along
the river where winter snows bury the arcs
of the deer's slender white ribs.

::Todd Davis, Some Heaven (Michigan State, 2007)


A '49 Merc

Someone dumped it here one night, locked
the wheel and watched it tumble into goldenrod and tansy,
ragweed grown over one door flung outward
in disgust. They did a good job, too: fenders split, winsield
veined with an intricate pattern of cracks
and fretwork. They felt, perhaps, a rare satisfaction
as the chassis crunched against rock and the rear window
buckled with its small view of the past. But the tires
are gone, and a shattered tail light shields a swarm
of hornets making home of the wreckage. How much
is enough? Years add up, placing one small burden on another
until the back yaws, shoulders slump. Whoever it was
just stood here as the hood plunged over and some branches snapped,
a smell of gasoline suffusing the air, reminding us
of the exact moment of capitulation when the life
we planned can no longer be pin-pointed on any map
and the way we had of getting there knocks and rattles to a halt
above a dark ravine and we go off relieved--
no, happy to be rid of the weight of all that effort and desire.

:: Kurt Brown, More Things in Heaven and Earth