Milltown Legacy

by Myke Leavitt

I am the spirit of fetid cabbage
abandoned in the sun . . .
a hod of mortar mixed
with the sweat and broken backs
of those that lived and died
before me, their lives counted
as nothing more than dirt,
grime packed under nails,
or their dirty children,
ragged and loved, flaking
like paint on brick
that now crumbles around me.

Dented, and sadly rusting
like the hulking grey Pontiac
in the drive, my father comes home
from 16 hours in the mill,
stinking and swearing . . .
hiding whiskey bottles in the cellar,
stacked like coal waiting
for the furnace, a crumpled Camel
butt dangling in his lips . . .
wheezing and cursing
the liquid that fires his heart
and loosens his belt strap
across my back, cursing
my promise just as smoothly
as scotch loosens his tongue . . .
his spirit lost to me.

I am the cursed memory
of the smell of the fetid cabbage
that sneaks under the door,
hiding from the clamber
of the paper machines
and spinning wheels
and the shrieking laughter
of tattered children,
their mothers screaming
for quiet and to be left alone.
The sameness of these sounds
still announces nightfall,
as the lights haunt the river . . .
casting roaring shadows of men
bent under the incessant
hum of the machines.

In the silenced voice
of those memories
my father’s anger turned to dust,
finally crumbling and dying,
buried with the closed factories . . .
the bent lives of coal weary men
and the shrieks of tattered mothers,
children begging to be
left alone.

As I dribble my life out
on the last bits of paper
my father brought home
stolen from the mill,
I still feel the sting
of his belt strap
across my back.