Daily Archives: May 31, 2015

Millworker

Tall brick halls echo
every small sound, longing

for how loud it used to be.
Oily floors full of holes,
the spaces where bolts
that held looms

once fitted.
That’s all done now.
The mills are hollow;
some go condo, some
become business centers
full of small hopes, some 
crumble away or burn down.
I grew up in a town
full of these,
a New England town

haunted by ghosts
from its woolen mills.  

Remembering the scent
of the dirt and oil

and the rattlebang nature
of every shift; remembering

long wool-laden walks
pushing through the boiling air

in the card rooms
and dye rooms; the dark docks 

where the raw wool came in
and the blankets went out.

The sub-basements full of rats
and stink and stories 
of men
who went in as children and 

came out only rarely.  Upstairs
their wives and girlfriends, their daughters
and widows, spun the carded wool,
filled the bobbins, built the warps
the looms would then eat
and shit out as fabric.  

I was there for a while — 
a floor worker, a near-useless
utility boy,
getting through

by getting coked out
and smoked up 

and usually drunk enough

that no one should have trusted me
with knives to cut away scrap wool and cranes
to hoist huge spools 
wound with wool
to the racks to wait for 
the looms
to suck them in
and turn them all
to someone else’s profit,

but they did.  Who else
was there to do it

except drunks and kids
on their way to being drunks?

I was a drunk.
I joined the union, drunk.
Got blow jobs drunk

from other drunks
in the back of the shop

or in vans at bars
where I’d dance
to Southern rock 
drunk
because that is the only way
to dance to it;

I was drunk the first time
I took a line up my nose,

drunk every time
I took a fist to my nose,

and drunk the last time
they laid me off

along with all the other drunks
on a Friday night

not long after Christmas.
We took our penultimate paychecks
to the bars
where we always cashed them 

and laid into drunkenness
and bad sex
and a last eightball of blow
before we turned

to the business
of haunting this town, stepping 

outside for a cigarette,
making drunk money where we can,

catching the scent of ghost wool
on a dead February wind from 1981
that cuts deep
no matter the year or season 
where it finds us.