Century of Progress
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With a coal in a glass held high
an old man wanders the sooted night
through smoking slash and slag.

Warm turbulence in cooling air dusts ash
from a still-glowing pocket of a cedar stump.

A flicker of blue sulphur flame
writhes across cracks in a shrinking slag heap.

Sometimes he stands high ---
caulks hold unsteadily in charcoal logs ---
and searches amongst the mingling wraiths
still rising from the scorched ground.

Sometimes he bends down,
holds his coal to a shadowy hollow --
the collar of his union suit shows an orange glow
absorbed by dark coveralls --
and listens
as the mass beneath him creaks and settles.

He draws a long breath with focused effort
and looks them straight in the eye:
"Did you hear the whistle, boys?
It's time we got to work."

Each man hears him as if from some heat-warped distance:
Teamster and stoker,
Millwright and leadburner,
Steel-driving man and powdermonkey,
Whistle-punk and highclimber,
Faller and sawyer,
Chokersetter and gyppo,
Assembler and marketeer,
MBA and CEO.

The teamster snaps the reins
and the stoker picks up his shovel,
and the millwright finds his square,
and the leadburner lights his torch,
and the steel-driving man shoulders his hammer,
and the shaker man steadies the drill steel,
and the powdermonkey shouts "Fire in the hole!"
and the whistle-punk grabs the cord,
and the highclimber straps on his irons,
and the faller hoists his saw,
and the sawyer eyes the green-chain,
and the chokersetter watches the high-lead,
and the gyppo starts his rig,
and the assembler sits down at the push-line,
and the MBA boots his PC,
and the CEO straightens his tie.

Then the hammer falls on the star drill,
and the mallet strikes the froe,
and fragrant clear cedar heartwood splits off the shake bolt,
and the engineer opens the throttle,
and live steam hits the piston,
and the CEO intones "strategic alliance for corporate positioning in the global marketplace",
and sharpshod hooves clatter on paving stones,
and the crack of rock powder shakes the mountain,
and the gyppo loads his logs,
and the MBA types "maximum internal rate of return",
and the cable screeches on the drum of the donkey,
and a bead of lead boils beneath the torch,
and the marketeer reads the mission statement,
and the assembler stuffs the board,
and the highclimber tops the spar tree,
and the pulpwood goes through the hog,

and the CEO is saying "enhancing shareholder equity" and "partnering for growth"
and the ore is sliding down the chutes,
and wood chips are falling into the digester,
and doré bars are stacked like cordwood on the wharf.

But the throttle is stuck,
and the engine is jumping the track,
and the powder shed is afire,
and the hard disk is crashing,
and the words are going through the hog:

/ leverage / control / achieve / yield / return on / growth / maximize / corporate focus / end run / team player / labor / burden / community relations / overmature timber / bid / springboard / takeover / alliance / restructure / positioning / market penetration /

and arsenic is burning in the furnace,
and the autoinserter is spewing chips onto the floor,
and the bull wheel is cracking,
and the ore bucket is falling from the cable,
and the faller is running from the tree,
and the disk has crashed,
and the mill is ablaze,
and the teamster is shouting "Ho!" but
the wild-eyed horses are spilling the wood-wagon as firebrands are drifting down around them.

Then it is quiet.
The power has gone out,
and the phone is dead,
and the merchantable timber has all been cut,
and the vein has pinched out,
and the boiler is cold,
and the green-chain is rusting on its sprockets,
and the market is down,
and the venture capital has dried up,
and the pump is sucking air,
and the PC is hung,
and the CEO is tapping on the microphone
while the analysts are walking away,
and the words are turning to pulp in the acid of the digester.

The quitting whistle never blew,
but steel and oil,
arsenic and lead,
steam and sulphur,
coal and silicon,
gold and paper,
have altered the air and the men;
like hemlock in the digester
only the black knots remain,
flushed into the river with the spent liquor,
drifting across the smoldering slash,
leaching from the tailings.

The spirits try to settle
back into the earth
from which they took their life's labor.
They drift seeking some fertile opening
amidst the rubble of the mill,
the charcoal of a burnt cull deck,
the asphalt of a business park,
the tile of the trading floor.

Each is lost,
being unable to find his machine
in the ruins.

Some curse,
some cry,
some stare silently into the night,
some see a coal in a glass held high,
and strain to hear an old man
who is trying to tell them
the job is done,
and it is time to move on.


Copyright 2008 David Sherman Engineering Co.