Turning Dillinger Into Shakespeare

A poem by Fred Voss

When I stepped into that steel mill I felt
like a criminal
murdering everything I had been brought up to believe in
the white shirt
the polished shoe clean fingernails cross of Jesus above a communion cup
full of his blood
that would save me
in the steel mill blood was something that spurted
from a finger cut off by a saw blade
eternity
a 12-hour shift heaven
a quart schooner of frothy beer poured across the lips
I’d never looked into the eye of a steel cutter  or a 10-ton overhead crane
or Wheel-A-Brator deburring machine operator
in my life
but I would look deeply into the eyes of these men
if it killed me
and I would never wear a white shirt
never lecture on Shakespeare or Shelley
from a university podium
belong to bridge club
or yacht club
or look down my nose at any man on the face of this earth
again
I would learn
what made the lion roar
gold shine a wave 
roll a rose open in the hand of a girl in love with a machinist a panther step
under a midnight moon a mustang shake its mane and gallop
toward a horizon I would heat
steel red-hot at the mouth of a roaring blast furnace and look into the eyes of these men and learn
what made Van Gogh splash stars across a canvas
Joe Louis punch Hitler in the eye the whale leap
for the sun eggs sizzle on sidewalks Mr. Bojangles dance
‘til he floats Halley’s Comet
spread its tail each snowflake
unique each smile from the heart
holy I would lift tons and tons of steel in my arms and look into their eyes and learn
what makes a diamond sparkle a Monarch butterfly flap its wings
sitting high up on a redwood tree needle in the sun I would look
into the eyes of those men and learn
that instead of being a criminal I was
a poet.

Fred Voss has been a machinist for 40 years. He has published three poetry collections with Bloodaxe, and his latest poetry pamphlet is ROBOTS HAVE NO BONES, published by Culture Matters.

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