(For my father, Joseph D. Bathanti)
I was seventeen before I saw Edgar Thomson –
the steel mill where my father had worked
since he was seventeen –
and only then because I needed his car
for the senior after-prom picnic.
The theme was Color My World.
Sleepless, having danced all night,
a furnace of cheap champagne
and still in my tuxedo, I dropped him off
at 7 a.m. in Braddock,
named for a Revolutionary War general,
three bars in every block, streetlights
turned on in the afternoon so the school kids
could see their ways home through the ore dust.
The mill was blue and corrugated,
rising in shaft after shaft
of smoke that saw-toothed into gray sky.
I never saw its top.
The men in the boom crane cabs
wore hardhats and drank coffee.
They had it knocked, my father said.
But not him. He had to climb the backs
of those monsters. When I was little and insisted
I wanted to be like him and work in the mill,
he'd snap, "No, you're not. You're going to college."
In a few months I really would be
going to college. Working in a steel mill
was the last thing I wanted to do.
My father eased out of the car,
handed me a twenty, told me to be careful,
pinned on his millwright's badge
and filed into the smoke with the others.
I turned up the radio, dropped the engine
into low for torque and floored it,
sure that in one night I had had more fun,
more love, more everything than he had had in his life;
and I wanted to get back to it
as fast as I could.
From Restoring Sacred Art by Joseph Bathanti. Used by permission of the poet and
Star Cloud Press. Copyright 2010 by Joseph Bathanti.