The New England Smokestack Speaks of Her Decommission By Colleen Michaels

The New England Smokestack Speaks of Her Decommission
 
Those who knew me, will tell you I was fantastic
at puzzles: hard scrabble, crosswords - great with grids.
I've danced with every mayor. I was a hoofer.
Now as an old lady and dying - there I said it - 
I can still tempt a young artist to fire my belly. 
 
In the fifties the boys on the floor
nicknamed me American Confidence. 
Everyone had a noisy aunt, like me, 
who wore stove pipe pants well   
showy as a new washing machine, a Cadillac. 
Of course I smoked. We all did. 
 
I've had a good run. Stretches of days without injury. 347.
As any broken body knows, one is the heaviest number  
to hoist back on the board. How I've come to hunch.
Posture problems, turned my back to breathless neighbors.
Who hasn't dragged soot into a house at one time?
 
So it goes with powerful women, Grendel's Mother.
Dismantle, defend, I've heard on the harbor wind.
Broad backed, I block the view, a mother at a stove
a shadow in the doorway, a monster under the bed.
I am the desire for light at night. I'm also that light.
We are all incandescent to someone, if briefly.
 
My four humors - management, union, oil and coal. 
It won't be bile to bring me down. And it certainly won't 
be my bones - bannisters, balconies, church height window - 
a ligature of tall, rounded pride. Shoulders back, back then fuming.  
 
Not too long ago I could pump my legs 
and make the water warm, bring barges.
They gossip how I blacken the fish on the grill, pulverize when I chew
Saying look at that appetite. I'll remind them I also cooked 
a fine meal in the McIntire District. I was a company picnic, 
one hell of a house warming, a light on in every room.
 
You know only your anatomy so you don't know quite 
how to ask. It's a fair question.  My lungs? How do I work? 
Respirator? Iron cage? Pinball? Like you
my veins run under the city through every small comfort.
Soon my labored breath will stop. 
I'll remember that what kept me going, 
in and out, swallow or bellow, 
was something very much human.  

Colleen Michaels directs the Writing Studio at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, where she hosts The Improbable Places Poetry Tour bringing poetry to unlikely places like tattoo parlors, laundromats, and swimming pools. Yes, in the swimming pool. Her poems have appeared in journals and anthologies including  Barrelhouse, The Paterson Literary Review, Mom Egg Review and Raising Lilly Ledbetter: Women Poets Occupy the Workspace (Lost Horse Press). Her poems have been commissioned as installations by The Massachusetts Poetry Festival, The Peabody Essex Museum, and The Trustees of Reservations.

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