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. Chain-smoker-skinny 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.
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.
A 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.