Aluminum smelter

Five Poems by Zach Eddy

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Before the Closure, Before I Quit

Pulling “burn-offs,” Porkshit yelled “what a hell
   of a way to make a living,”
   his pants and gloves smoldering, 
                neck goiter beating red as Bling’s bandanna
            and face. We looked like prisoners   
                          while we tonged carbon shards
                glowing over open molten. Our factory
            became a sucker fish in the swelling world
                 operation. So they fed us cheaper
            ingredients, alumina ore cut thin as soup,
   which we processed with our red
                   Sqwinchers, mined from our filling gutters,
      shook from thinning hairlines,
            and swept from our dirty sheets at night,
                          before rising again for Graveyard.
            Toxins settle down inside us
                         like faded coins in a piggy bank.

            Before the “Year of the Burn-off,”
before Haystack printed SOPs
            and tallied the OSHA “Recordables,”
   before I hung upside down
            by my broken leg, trapped in the bus-work
                          on Pot 22, long before the crustbreaker
            crushed the tractor, and the train cars
crushed a millwright, before
            Piglos crushed stolen pills
                               from lunch pails and smoked his teeth—

            an open-cab crane operator by mistake 
                          crushed a hydraulic line while syphoning
            aluminum, dousing himself in oil
and flames, before Poor Vern’s legend dropped
                the ladder, climbed down all thirty-five feet
   and years, muttering his final words to the crew,
                “what a hell of a way to go out.”



High on Coke and Mushrooms at a Black Jack Table, 2 a.m.

Screaming along a darkening highway
              the igneous rocks have faces
And the driver grins fantastic grins
 too wide for good,
              razor teeth and shooting  stars   for     eyes,

Hit me again, I tell the dealer
     inside my head
                      inside a Medieval-themed casino,
  clutching a Camel like a prayer.
         Two vices clench my thoughts
racing blind horses on the widening  TV     screen

before Freebase Eric answers,    he’s with me 
Temple Grandin whispers in Alaskan creole
    there’s a bear         drinking a Coke 
                        that shits on the floor
And roars back at the hungry crowd 

As florescent lights heat the bathroom floor
               glistening vomit and blood stains
 that pattern      my new face      and the broken tile   decaying
    Is someone there? wearing yellow diamonds
 she asks         though we both know
                           like the lengthening          future’s luster       

The black radio’s spheric answer



Croc’s Bib, Graffiti Portrait on Plastic Dispenser for Disposable Toilet-Seat Covers

In memory of Joseph “Croc” Czlapinski, 1963-2018

Not two years past the shutdown
mesothelioma ate your lungs.
drinker, stalker, angler,
lazy union brother,
those scratchy-throated stories
could outlive trashy ex-wives,
restraining orders
and teenage twins, who never saw you
there, standing next in line.

Will I make it to sixty? I wonder now
approaching the ManorCare bathroom’s mirror,
while my own twin brother smokes
outside in the parking-lot rain,
and our stranger-father tries to swallow spit
past a baseball-size throat tumor. 

Facebook wishes you a Happy Birthday, Croc.
They wonder how you got your name.
Bragging in a filthy breakroom
you bent your knees to show us

how you pulled that “gator” from glowing liquid
bath, floating the red channel,
so monstrous in the molten aluminum

it had to be a crocodile! The same one
the whole shift knew, like you,
to be a flaming crock of shit.



Tomorrow I’ll Dream of Purple Flowers

Tonight I dream of purple bruises, climbing fast
above the ponderosa pines and Douglas fir
branches, tracing the miners’ dirt-road mountain pass,
past the asbestos layered roof tiles, the color
of clay that’s trapped in clenching fists, barely gripping
basalt and granite stones that line the turret walls,
beyond the factory and museum, extending
outside the sky in darkness. The purple crows call
to me as I’m slow-lifted up, and floating on,
and soaring out into a vastness that can’t be
described without inhaling the bright deception
of bauxite teeth and bones coating the stars, and me
clawing the air, filling with fear, now looking down,
stirring back to life and rising from the cold ground.



Alcoa Gothic

I wear multinational companies in my flesh.
    – Adam Dickenson (“Anatomic”)

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take
but by the moments that take our breath away.
­­    – Picture frame from Walmart

              The guard gates are closed tonight.
Fresh snow on concrete.
              Uncle Al waits to be called

in, and I am waiting too,
              for a black phone to ring.
A ghoulish reunion occurs underground. 

              In the distance my mind travels, I listen
for the speechmaker’s voice repeating
              Manual Kill, Manual Kill.

Coal tar sticks to a trans-corporeal reality 
              far beyond the grave. At a long-dead
river smelter, a long-dead Potliner

              is lobbing snowballs of powdered asbestos
at a Bricky’s rash-gnarled face.
              I hear Tap Out, Pot Twenty-two, 

Twenty-two. Box cars are loaded with ingots
              for bullets. Croc chokes for air on the curtain wall
carrying his tongs to the next pot. 

              Over a crew of skeletons, Poor Vern
runs the air from the crane, charred
              black and still smoking.

Hurricane Harold has no hands
              for fist fighting in the courtyard. Twenty-two,
Twenty-three. New hires rise from ore piles,

              alumina, silica, fluoride, coke
pouring from their ears,
              mouth and eyes.

A supervisor with fangs and one arm
              repeats into the dying radio’s static,
Roger that. The whole shift is getting forced

              —while the Alcoa doctor says nothing
down here can kill you, Alcoa
              Santa wishes you a Merry Christmas—over.

Audio for “Alcoa Gothic” features score by Nico Toe.




Zach EddyA former aluminum worker, Zach Eddy is currently earning his MFA at the University of Idaho, where he teaches English composition and serves as poetry editor for Fugue. He has been awarded the Wenatchee Valley College Earth Day Poetry Prize, a Centrum Writers’ Conference Fellowship from Central Washington University, and an honorable mention in the Academy of American Poets University and College Contest. His work has been published in High Desert Journal, Mirror Northwest, The Confluence, The Comet Magazine, NPR’s A Poetry Moment, and elsewhere.

Header photo by galitsin, courtesy Shutterstock.

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