Monday, 08 January 2024 16:28

Halley's Comet Burning Over Mark Twain's Head

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in Poetry
Halley's Comet Burning Over Mark Twain's Head

Halley's Comet Burning Over Mark Twain's Head

by Fred Voss

I didn’t have to go to war in Italy like Ernest Hemingway
I just walked into a Los Angeles steel mill and picked up a cutting torch
and found my battlefield
between tin walls
with men
who gave their lives to machines that could chew off their fingers
and never got
a medal of honour
men who couldn’t stop shaking in their fingers and jaws
from 20 years of 2-ton drop hammer blasts
in their face and ears
but never wore
a purple heart
or got an article about them in any newspaper
fighting a war against steel bar and blast furnace flame and brutal boss
with whiskey in their thermoses and steel toes
in their boots
I didn’t have to go to sea like Melville
to meet my Queequeg
from a Polynesian island with tattoos all over his skin and a harpoon
sharper than a Sandy Koufax
there was Gus
from a San Quentin cell who could lay down a weld bead
smooth and fiery straight as the path
of Halley’s Comet
burning over Mark Twain’s head
Gus’s touch with his welding rod
magic as Jackson Pollock’s brush dripping coloured paint
all over a famous canvas
but unknown
as any bum on midnight skid row
my war heroes
with graveyard shift steel dust laughs of gritty survival that rang out off tin walls true
as Marlon Brando On the Waterfront muscle or Charlie Chaplin little tramp grin
men like shadows
caste by a blast furnace flame
against a blank
tin wall
when they should have been the faces of human triumph
on flags
waved 'round the world.

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Fred Voss

Fred Voss, a machinist for 35 years, has had three collections of poetry published by Bloodaxe Books, and two by Culture Matters: The Earth and the Stars in the Palm of Our Hand, and Robots Have No BonesHis latest book is Someday There Will Be Machine Shops Full of Roses and is available from Smokestack Books.