First Day

Still astonished to be starting
     Work at twelve o'clock at night,
I passed through the dark streets
     By the river, that first Sunday
In another life, carrying my lunch-
     Box and steel-toed shoes toward
Those enormous ovens I'd be
     Laboring beneath till morning.
Left alone below the mill floor,
     I shoveled shale into the waters
Rushing beyond me like an opened
     Main, and could hear above me
The shear and clamor of metals,
     Crane whistles, ingots thundering
Along their beds to be rolled
     Through a series of presses.
I learned that day how time ran
     In the gears and drive trains
Of machinery, how time burned
     Inside furnaces in the great fires
Of creation and spread out evenly
     In sheets of steel. That night,
For the first time, I counted
     The hours coming on, one by one,
And passed through them without
     Sleep. Finally, that morning,
I watched the sun bloom in a sky
     Filled with mill smoke and
Sparrows rising from their baths
     Of dust, the blue fuse of ozone
From the wires above the trolleys.
     I learned how each new day
Was a promise light made to dust
     Before breaking, which the river
Took with it and emptied downstream.
     How the streets were a promise,
And the surge of current through
     The line--a song that the blood,
The humming wires, would take up
     Again with each new morning,
Just as though it were the first.

:: Robert Gibb, The Origins of Evening (Norton, 1998)

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