This poem was recently published in the journal Poet Lore.
The trip from one industrial city to another
took two hours, but as a child, it seemed like forever.
We knew we were getting close to our cousins
when the shallow Ohio hills evolved
into Pennsylvania mountains and out of the
car window there were clusters of railroad tracks,
twisting, converging in a massive puzzle.
We followed the Ohio River, wide and
forbidding in the tiny town that sat
across from the inhospitable steel mills.
In the summer, the dirt falling from
the sky collected in gutters and grew weeds
and grass there and in the winter it blackened
the snow before it touched the earth.
The surrounding sky was perpetually sallow;
neutral from the belching towers
of fire and foul smelling smog.
The filth from the smoke stacks brought
a paycheck to its workers, but caused children
to come in from playing with black hands and
feet and begrimed faces and clothes.
At night I would leave whatever bed I was
sharing with one or two cousins to see
the sky that was lit up orange with the angry
fire that discharged from the mills all night long,
and listen to the howl of the trains
and wonder how anyone could sleep
with this beauty and brilliance outside,
the view at one forbidding and
inviting to innocent eyes.
The flagrant polluting of the earth
was eventually halted and the mills torn down.
The fiery combustive sky dissolved, the jobs lost,
the houses sandblasted of their scorching,
the heavens clarified and colorful,
and the children were clean.