Tuesday, 24 September 2019 07:43

National Poetry Day: Hammer Blow and Heartbeat

Written by
in Poetry
84
Workers
Workers
by Peter Kennard

Hammer Blow and Heartbeat

by Fred Voss

I remembered how clean the church was
when I was 10
the altar where the minister poured the blood of Christ into shiny silver chalice
the calm manicured fingernails of the congregation in their spotless Sunday clothes
kneeling to God
above
now I was 23
with the oily wheels of a cutting torch machine in my hands
in a steel mill where men spat
on a concrete floor blackened by a million steps of filthy bootheels
“fuck”
“shit” “Goddamn son of a bitch” were in the air
instead of holy hymns
sunflower seeds
spat through air sour with steel dust instead of the body of Christ
in a wafer on my tongue
above us
only a smokestack belching orange and blue flames
but there was laughter
in that steel mill like I never heard in that church when I was 10
laughter that washed the soul with its joy real
as a naked body
a tiger’s growl
a volcano rumble a train wheel clacking
down a rail a sunflower
spreading its smiling gold petals over black raw earth
if there would ever really be a God it would have to be
in this steel mill
in bruised
knuckle grease-smeared cheekbone steel-toed boot grunt
and growl and sweaty back of a man putting every ounce of courage he has inside him
into shoving a ton of steel
into a roaring blast furnace mouth
not gold cufflink
clean coat and tie country club membership and pie-in-the-sky cross
God
in the black machine grease under the broken fingernails of men who are brothers
in molten steel sore back smashed finger aching bone gasping lung
groaning soul sweating skin taut muscle bellow
howl hoot holler sigh
of relief when a quit-work whistle blows after 12 hours
of timeclock hell
not in the burgundy wine we pretend
is the blood of Christ
God
not in some spotless heaven far above
but here in this steel mill
in hammer blow
and heartbeat.

Read 84 times Last modified on Sunday, 29 September 2019 20:57
Fred Voss

Fred Voss, a machinist for 32 years, has had three collections of poetry published by the UK’s Bloodaxe Books. His latest booklet is The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, published by Culture Matters.