Glazing and glistening grey clouds clot and rust over the city
Like dreams pouring from the steel mills and
Spilling their detritus.
Red-black smoke thickens like scabs,
Suffocating lives and dreams.
This was where I worked one summer because my old man
Told me to.
Me, all tender behind the ears,
Naked white and barely shaving,
Nineteen years old and totally innocent of the ways of the
The shoes I wore were
Steel-plated in the toes to prevent my little footsies from being
Should gravity bring a beam or a box or a barrel barrelling down.
Furnaces burn the incense of hell,
Red with angry scourging heat,
As fierce and frantic fires melt the ore
And birth it into steel for buildings, for furniture, for cars, for staplers, for lamps, for file
For glowering skyscrapers,
For bridges, for trucks, for catwalks.
Me, afraid that the furnace-sparks will
Light me up and burn me and
Ruin my day,
As I try my best to coagulate from the world of innocence to the world of experience.
A world built on steel,
Hard, impervious, tough,
Cold to the touch.
Steel spans and chokes the globe–
The hard edge of a hard civilization.
Will no one say I care,
And whisper somewhere beneath this conglomeration
That things are not as they gleam?
Christopher Johnson is a writer based in the Chicago area. He’s been a merchant seaman, a high school English teacher, a corporate communications writer, a textbook editor, an educational consultant, and a free-lance writer. He’s published short stories, articles, and essays in The Progressive, Snowy Egret, Earth Island Journal, Chicago Wilderness, American Forests, Chicago Life, Across the Margin, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Blue Lake Review, The Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, Spillwords Press, Fiction on the Web, Sweet Tree Review, and other journals and magazines. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire Press published his book, This Grand and Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains. His second book, which he co-authored with a prominent New Hampshire forester named David Govatski, was Forests for the People: The Story of America’s Eastern National Forests, published by Island Press in 2013.
You can find more of Christopher’s work here on Ink Pantry.