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21st Century Poetry: Steel brotherhood

by FRED VOSS

47 years ago in the steel mill I remember
a steelworker picking up 2 steel shanks
and knocking them together
so they rang out in the steel dust air
until a second steelworker across the football-field-big steel mill building
picked up 2 steel shanks
and knocked them together in time with the first steelworker’s knocks
WHAP WHAP WHAP WHAP
echoing between tin walls
rising to tin ceiling
penetrating through office walls
into the company president’s ears
a 3rd
a 5th a 20th a 30th steelworker putting down cutting torch or hand grinder or welding rod
to pick up 2 steel shanks and bang them together and join
the chorus
sending chills up the spines
of the supervisors
thus the union
spoke
once or twice a week
whenever that chorus of steelworkers broke out banging steel shanks together
spoke
in our bones and hearts
roared
sang in a language of banged-together shanks universal
as clanging steel
and soaring spirit midnight shooting star
and charging lion turning earth and curling wave Woody Guthrie 
date-picker campfire guitar string
and Beethoven heroic kettle drum boom
let that steel shank chorus
come again
let it rise up to the skies
and save
blue coral foot-wide amazon butterfly bright orange Bengal tiger growl
Paul Robeson fearless Joe Hill notes red-hot cutting torch sparks
green green Walt Whitman leaves of grass
and us men
banging together steel shanks until they ring out
in brotherhood.

Fred Voss is an American poet and novelist who has written about the lives of US machinists working in factories for over 40 years. 
Poetry submissions to [email protected]

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