Oarlock, Oar (Y, W, V, U, F)

still I hail from smokestacks girders closed

factories McLouth Steel’s poured slag turning the night

sky and black river orange the tight typeface of houses

in River Rouge Wyandotte the steel and auto tribes

tribe of the alphabet job shops the fathers who set

cutting tools on screw machines to make in multiples

in sixes packets of ear plugs the men made deaf shift

changes at three the line must never stop nothing could

not mothers who taught us the alphabet shapes

of oxen boats houses camels letters row on row

to prop us up row the ideas forward the spear

the snake the needle tooth Y W V U and F

all hailing from the same tribe the same hieroglyph father

oar or oarlock depending the alphabet not unlike

the world we lived in once we lived there the letters

trundled forth on their tracks boxcars shaking full

of gleaming two-doors leather seats body by Fisher

and yes I hail from unbeautiful artifice things

that made us late (barred tracks flashed lights opened

bridges) a tribe of shipbuilders iron ore taconite men

whose hands would not wash clean the machinery

and the machinery of the river the made thing

more important than we were the things themselves

not the idea of them I thought the letters books

a different place the books were not the way

out but in the letters embodying mirroring making what is

the oarlock what the oar still I hail from the Grosse Ile crew

team pulling on the river before school matching letter

jackets forgotten on the dock the catch release their blades

From The Alphabet Not Unlike the World by Katrina Vandenberg. Copyright © 2012 by Katrina Vandenberg. Reprinted with permission of Milkweed Editions. All rights reserved.