Young quick fingers hurried to work wear thin
now almost transparent green-gray paint when
the clock eager to make work start clicks time.
Its punch as sharp as ever was, it marks men
who work the furnace into heat, who love their
wives and children too, to melt the ore, who shape
into its shapes of steel girder, beam, and sheet.
The green-gray clock keeps endless time; it
keeps time week by week and day to day for
older and the younger men who muscle through
the crowd of likewise eager souls to work the mill.
And the old soldiers in the mill accuse the younger men
whose skins amid the furnace heat recall jungles without
love; the elders who never in the jungles fought feel heat
yet damn their souls to building up the afterwar for men
who never served and so deserve a special hell more than
jungle green and mindless mill. The gray and graying beards
of men will work as one where green-gray clock keeps time
The call to work, the lunch-time hour, that middleclass at ease
of mid-aged men who wait the perfect moment for their talk,
the perfect act of scorn for those who fought and lost. The clock
keeps perfect time and calls them back to work, together shrug
the furnace into heat, to melt the ore, and steel create with ease
as if they were old friends as slave to slave must be.
The green-gray clock keeps time.
Minutes into hours into days then weeks
kept in computer file lock-up somewhere
high above this limbo in offices unseen,
and somewhere else -- perhaps -- quality
is marked off too but not for benefit.
It keeps the time, and only time it keeps.
The green-gray clock keeps monthly time.
Its paint worn near transparent thin
by gnarled fists that slowly move
as if against last check retirement.
But each punch closer moves them to the end;
the green-gray clock keeps time.
The green-gray clock keep time,
The time that mother sent you to the gate
to stand and watch the tallow figures pass
and ask him for the check before it turned to drink.
That time was passing even then; even then the clock
had made a space for you , for years of endless work
despite the mind, the soul, the heart of what other things
you've done or dream to do, the time for sons to father sons
to follow into ore and fire, fire and metal thin and flat,
metal rolled and hard as ore. Eight hours work, six hours pay,
deadtime lunch at noon and midnight shutdown time to check
the green-gray clock, to count who's punched in for work.
The hands that march toward twelve march toward twelve
from twelve. Seconds into minutes into hours and days
then days to weeks to months to years, the green-gray clock
keeps time, time that measures work and measures lives,
the green gray clock keeps time, time it keeps, time for sons
who father sons who follow into ores and chains.
The green-gray clock keeps time time time
Long nights on the galvanize line
kicking rats into molten aluminum
recalls something about muscle busting
through school on the stadium field --
the quick flip wrist, cautious catch,
side step to applause for precision
and the score-board glitter of moments
Galvanized, a clean mind
moves through the flexing nights
of labor into elbow-cracking, suds-sipping,
laughing mornings when suns break bird sleep
and the chirps chase cars from the curb
into the drive toward lonely tenements.
The long rest day in stupor-like sleep
to the beat of the sun on softening flesh
to remind of the heat of the night
ramming hot rods into furnace rollers
to crack away slag-clinkers on unused sides,
the sucking of air into the fiery bowels
cooling the perspiration of passionate labor.
My son, by god, will move up in the world
away from this friction.
But the son re-affirms,
"God bless grease and the blast furnace,"
and dirt under nails
of the sweat slick son of the steel mill
dreaming his manhours
into gas-consuming cars,
and liters of Europa wines.