Kim Matthews Wheaton
The Promise of Abundance
The train arrives in the night, carrying raw ingredients
like a poisonous family recipe—alumina ore, coke, pitch,
bath, and other noxious toxins. At shift changes, the workers
file in past the guard-gate turnstile. Tell Ma don’t wait up.
In the Green Mill—the first decrepit warehouse along the
safety walkway leading to the aluminum Potrooms—coal tar
is mixed into a vat before it seeps into any orifice it can.
The whole plant is outdated and reeks of better days
sometime during the 1970s, smokestacks, stained tile on the walls,
bauxite dust everywhere. Raw-green anodes convey to the Bakes.
In a 28-day cycle, these carbons cook underground in flues, until
plucked from the sky by a crane’s mechanical bird claw
and fed into the industrial mouth of a million-dollar cleaner.
The burning, square carbons glow now like 900-pound briquettes,
hauled away five-to-a-tray to be rodded with copper. Finally,
another open-cab crane monster drops them by twos and threes into
the Potroom kettles—row after row of steel catwalks and ringbusses,
electrical current and magnetism humming and buzzing—
as the cold carbons spittle and pop inside orange-molten liquid.
In the football-field-sized warehouses, heat swelters. Crews move
up and down the unending line, setting rods to the mark,
yelling as they go, blurring into a muggy mirage. In another room
new-hires syphon metal out of pots like two monkeys trying to
fuck a football. You sit at the end chain-smoking, high off the
ground in a cruce truck, watching like a voyeur, waiting for the crane
to deliver you molten. You wouldn’t believe it if someone told you,
over the radio, the plant will shut down the following year,
and you’ll never pour another ingot. That after a few years,
you won’t even recall accurately if you loved or hated your life there,
if the anodes made the aluminum, or you did. To remember it,
the way ore dust permeates your soul, and to help decide, you’ll
write jargon-filled poetry that no one understands, about a millwright
slow-crushed by train cars, and occasionally you go home for dinner.