That winter I lived with a woman on a hill hit hard
by winds off Lake Michigan as it sat and thrashed
and spat. Jammed mammoth slabs of ice one atop another.
Formed a frozen shelf wide and jagged as wave-works
themselves and run over by razors, sirens, blasts of wind
that tore into flesh and against which our heater
rattled out its weak defense. We huddled together
under quilts to read and make love in the ambergris
glow of shallow lamp light. She rose to steam the kitchen
with soups and teas we took in half lotus on the bed.
I worked in a factory made of cinder blocks and racket.
Men, women stood eight hours at machines tall as elevators,
gun-metal grey and dripping oil. Machinists cut, drilled,
punched, formed, joined steel, aluminum, tin. Each
to the same task weeks on end at machines precision
set by foremen that skulked about, growling or
quietly absorbed. A dim cast relieved only by what
eked out of florescent tubes or wafted down from
high-set panes no one had ever been paid to clean.
I was hired to move parts station to station.
A “trucker” who shared my weekly check with
barkeeps while the Blackhawks or the Packers
blared above. She bought the vegetables, cubed beef,
seven-grain loaves of bread that kept us going.
There was a tiny gas heater beside the tub that
had to be lit to flame for twenty minutes. She
always bathed by candle light and had an oval
daguerreotype hung in there showing a bare shouldered
belle who tucked her chin demurely.
Next to that her gray cat would perch to stick its paw
out and catch drips of silver from the leaky spout.
Which was then and is now more beauty
than I could hold or ever hope to deserve.
When I left, streets were still walled with snow
that city plows had mashed to the curb. I hitched
out I-94 toward El Paso. She kept my books and
a few LPs because I was going to come back.
It wasn’t much, that palimony of freezing sheets.
from Rattle #57, Fall 2017
Tribute to Rust Belt Poets
[ download audio]
Ed Ruzicka: “When, where I grew up, factories and foundries stood as the inveterate core of American industry, behemoth maws consuming hours, lives. Men, women did work by the back, muscle, hand. No one relied on anybody but themselves. I learned that by dad’s absence, by how mom darned socks. At twenty I went to work to find America, write America. I left. Leaving was part of it. I go back. Especially in the poems I go back. I hope like hell I’ve got sweat in these poems. And loss. Lust and bewilderment. An honest day, an honest word.” ( website)