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Blast Furnaces

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20130402

Blast Furnaces

They trigger my emotions, as they loom high overhead, each a rusting black octopus of pipes, full of memories and secrets. Their work is over. They are retired like a thoroughbred greyhound or horse, used up, run into the earth, exploited. Their scars cover them. The old paint falls from them, the rust penetrates deeper each day, disregarded by most, but realized by the few who care, who were awestruck by the white hot glow of molten steel vomited from the mouth of each furnace and the torch of gases burning off against the night sky, who watched on soft, quiet summer nights in the darkness of the big front porch with the green rocking chairs. We are the Keepers of memories. We were young then - our lives impatient to be lived. Our fathers labored under those beasts, wearing their asbestos suits, and coping with the heat and the burns and the headaches. We grew up there in the shadow of those huge pipes that looked like black tentacles, twisting and contorting in spirals and bends, leading to other larger pipes that were lost in a maze of walkways, gantries, and dirty buildings. Everything dirty, lying under years of soot. But the men made the money that supported us, their families. And the men rewarded themselves with stops at local bars along their routes home - they all walked - they all lived close enough to walk. And we had food to eat and warm clothes in the winter. There was always coal for our stoves.

Today, weeds and trees grow in the crevices of the pipes, sprouted from seeds borne on the wind. They grow on the walkways, nourished by the rust that turns into a ‘soil’ of pure corroded iron. Today the people dance and sing and drink beer in the shadow of the furnaces. The black holes that once were windows in the old buildings, now gape like a tired old man who’s teeth have fallen out. The skip cars are silent, parked on the inclines. They will never carry another load of ore up the rails to the top, to feed the once hungry furnace. It has stopped eating like an old man who knows his time has come.

I feel sadness - a violation of hallowed space. The tears come as I think of how the furnaces are now used like a stage prop, a dancing bear in a carnival, a caged lion in a circus, or a mighty elephant ordered to sit on its rump to amuse a crowd of people with insatiable appetites for new thrills. The old steel sentinels have been prostituted to this crowd under them, and who are unaware of what once happened here. But I know. A mature imagination now fills in the blanks of what a young boy’s mind was not yet aware of, but who felt something even then, who felt something transferred by those belching behemoths - transferred to those who they felt, understood them and their mission. And they still speak to those of us who listen.

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