The Past Catches Up

The Past Catches Up

1

 I am from the rusted rain
seeded by steel plant smoke
black pearl grit that fell 

in layers of grey white grey white 

 

when the coke oven exhaust
would blast into the summer air
its thick rank billows
we kids would watch the wind
if it blew in our direction
clothes would be brought in off the line 

or else rewashed and hung another day 

the fine particle dust
would settle on car roofs
still hot enough to fuse with the paint 

white would gradually turn black
then red as grit rusted 

 

no teacher at recess said 

you kids better get inside 

stop breathing it in
we kids never felt
those particles settle 

in our hair 

on tongues 

into our lungs
it was a slightly annoying consequence 

of the industry
that put food on the table

 

food our mothers cooked
while the blast furnace
spewed the air
to pepper the food we ate
at night we’d breathe it into our dreams 

2 

all these years later
I wake from that east coast dream 

coughing
I wonder if this is the price
I still pay for growing up
where paying the rent 

and feeding the kids 

was worth the cold damp steel poison price 

where the spew of commerce
was considered a viable trade off 

for life expectancy

 

a time when they may not 

have known better 

surely there are no buried studies
that showed the ravages
of this blast furnace debris
on the lungs of those who breathed it in 

ate it in the food
drank it in our water 

 

when I cough for no reason
in dry air damp air fresh air
short of breath 

from drowning in iron smoke 

I taste that pollution pulsation
I still call home


This is the last piece in the chapbook and it echos the ‘I am’ from first piece. The incidents are real – bringing the wash is or rewashing it or timing the hanging to avoid the blast furnace dusts. My father didn’t realize how corrosive this dust was until we were washing the car one day and the fused particles were impossible to clean off the roof of the car. The grit used because of its iron content.

Not mentioned here is that in the areas immediate to the still plant families were forced to move because the soil had become poisoned with arsenic & other steel plant effluvia. This poisoning was know & denied by the powers that be. Those homes were abandoned with some compensation. The incidence of cancers, lung infections & birth deformities that radiate out from that area became too significant to ignore.

There was no real concern for decades about how the chemicals from this industry affected people’s health. By the time the steel plant closed areas of it were considered the most polluted in North America. Perfect place for your kids to play, now that the land has been capped in the tar ponds reclamation project.

Although my home wasn’t that close, my school was, my job was, so I did experience some of the damage which results in my slightly dry cough. There is no compensation for that, nor was the compensation to those people who had to move enough to make up for the family members lost to the poison of making a living.

previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3

When I Was A Young Boy  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By

Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg

Nailed https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3D9

Unmasked https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3EE

The Colliery https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3HG


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

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