October 11, 2012

Poem of the Week: Papermill


By Joseph Kalar

Not to be believed, this blunt savage wind
Blowing in chill empty rooms, this tornado
Surging and bellying across the oily floor
Pushing men out in streams before it;

Not to be believed, this dry fall
Of unseen fog drying the oil
And emptying the jiggling greasecups;
Not to be believed, this unseen hand
Weaving a filmy rust of spiderwebs
Over these turbines and grinding gears,
These snarling chippers and pounding jordans;
These fingers placed to lips saying shshsh:
Keep silent, keep silent, keep silent;
Not to be believed hardly, this clammy silence
Where once feet stamped over the oily floor,
Dinnerpails clattered, voices rose and fell
In laughter, curses, and songs. Now the guts
Of this mill have ceased and red changes to black,
Steam is cold water, silence is rust, and quiet
Spells hunger. Look at these men, now,
Standing before the iron gates, mumbling,
"Who could believe it? Who could believe it?"

from Papermill: Poems 1927-1936 (2006)

[I'd never heard of Joseph Kalar before I found this poem posted on Facebook by MN labor organizer Alan Maki. I first thought it was a poem of the collapse of the Rust Belt, but it turns out that the mill closing he describes happened during the early days of the Great Depression--kind of a trial run for the '70s. And the present day...]

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