.... Lorain, Ohio, 1948-49    What’s Immoral – (An alphabetized laundry list aspiring to become a poem)

Lorain, Ohio, 1948-49

The blue of the sky was painted over
by the topcoat of a choking red dust cloud
so its particles of iron ore, blended with graphite,
gouged out your eyeballs as you drove by
on the Lake Erie highway to the north of the town.

The rust-colored cloud was so thick, the rays
of the sun filtered through as if powered by
the dying batteries of a two-celled flashlight.
The dust, the dust that made your eyes smart,
made you cough up your lungs before their time,
settled on the small wood and brick houses
of the steelworkers and their families.
It coated the lawns, the trees, the shrubbery
like the ravages of diphtheria over the throats of
the dying. It choked the plants, it gagged the people.

We worked in the steel mills, eleven thousand strong.
Most of us lived in the town, many of us walked to work,
Breathing the dust at work, at home, at play, in our sleep.

We were Hungarians, Yugoslavs, Poles, Bulgarians, Russians,
       Italians, Scotch-Irish, Mexicans and the gnarled little gnomes
       from the coal pits of Cornwall --- plus one lone Finn.
Some of us were called Hillbillies, the lean, stringy lads,
       ex-miners, ex-moonshiners, from the Ohio River country,
       Kentucky, Tennessee, and points South.
Many of us were newly-recruited Puerto-Ricans, homesick for
       our beautiful, but hungry, little jewel of the Caribbean.
We were Blacks from the South, straight from the cotton fields
       to the war work in the mills, to churn out steel to make the
       tanks and planes and victory ships of World War II.
We, the timid little Puertoriquenos, and the black progeny
       of field slaves now made wage slaves had the lousiest jobs.
We were scorned as the lowest of the low by our union brothers
       and sisters, higher up the industrial pecking order.

But it took all of us to make the mills run, to turn out the
       steel that produced the social wealth that made the steel
       barons rich, who lived far, far from our cloud of iron dust.
We drank at the mill gate bars after work, whatever shift — —
       We downed boilermakers, double shots with beer chasers,
       till we blew half our pay, and all our minds.
We got drunk, we fought with each other, got tossed into
       the drunk tank, to puke all over the joint and sleep it off.
       And we posted bail, or forfeited same, to make our next shift.
The open hearth was the melting pot where the witches’ brew
       of us metallurgical alchemists turned into molten steel, poured
       white-hot into the ingot molds down in the cinder pits —
All shoveled, poured, and hauled away by the blood and sweat
       of the men and women of the human melting pot:
        The open hearth gang, of all nations, all races.
It was a thriving city, plenty of work in ‘48, all the
       O.T. you could take. Pull into town, get hired
       the same day, go to work the next.

It was a lively, lusty town for the mill folk to cavort.
       Saturday nights we drank and danced at the Slovenian Hall
       like whirling Slavic dervishes to the accordion blasts
       of the Polka King of Cleveland, Frankie Yankovic and band,
       who was celebrated in every Bohunk steel town dance hall
       from Pittsburgh to Youngstown and all the Great Lakes.

Once we went downtown to hear the young Ella Fitzgerald.
       She sang in the only bar in town with live entertainment.
       She was the only Black in the joint, standing at her mike
       above the burly-shouldered crowd at the bar.
       No Blacks could drink at this bar, or any bar in Lorain.
       Yet Ella poured her soul into her songs; I loved her,
       first sight, through the blue haze of cigarette smoke.

We went to the raucous meetings of Local 1104,
       United Steelworkers of America, CIO.
       “Throw that commie bum out,” came a bellow from the floor
       as a dissenting voice took issue with a decision
              from the podium.

Communists and Trotskyists passed out leaflets at midnight
       at the plant gates, as the swing shift went off,
                                           the graveyard on.
        A mixed reception: “Hey, gimme a machine gun
                                           when you make the revolution!”
                                           “Go back to Russia, you traitors!”

Plenty of debate in ’48. *Who ya gonna vote for President? “
       “Truman? Hell, no! I’m voting for Henry Wallace!”
       “The guy who killed the pigs in the Depression
       when people were starving? You’re fulla shit!”
But the Presidential sweepstakes were but stage whispers
       in the plant cafeterias.
The Cleveland Indians were on their way to the pennant in’48!
       You went from one bar to another. The same conversation
       picked up in the next bar from where it left off in the last.
       “The Indians are going to do it! This time we win! It was magic!

The Indians won! Truman got elected after Dewey was declared winner
       by the New York Times. Wallace and Thurmond finished way back.
I cashed in at the mills the summer of ‘49.
I drove away from Lorain, Seattle-bound. Go west, young man!
I never looked back at the iron-clad red dust cloud
       as I tooled the Chevvy toward Sandusky and Toledo.
I had three bills in my kick, my duds and books in the trunk.

In the mid-1980s I read of a worker demonstration in Lorain.
Steelworkers were protesting the threatened shutdown
of the mill by U.S. Steel. National Tube down the tubes?
Even at this point much of Lorain was unemployed.
Boomtown, Steeltown, USA, was no more.
One by one the stacks of the mills in the Rust Belt states
       stopped billowing forth their rust-fouled issue.
The furnaces were banked down for good.
A cloud of desperation, of resignation, intermingled
       with the residue of the red cloud of dust.

    —By Harry Siitonen, Dec. 6, 1989.

What’s Immoral?
(An alphabetized laundry list aspiring to become a poem)

Ageism is immoral

Animal abuse is immoral

Assault and battery is immoral

Capitalism is immoral

Censorship is immoral

Cheating is immoral

Child abuse is immoral

Child labor is immoral

Corporal punishment is immoral.

Death penalty is immoral

Dictatorship is immoral

Elder abuse is immoral

Greed is immoral

Homophobia is immoral

Hypocrisy is immoral

Imperialism is immoral

Labor exploitation is immoral

Lying is immoral

Misogyny is immoral

Murder is immoral

Polluting the earth is immoral

Racism is immoral

Rape is immoral

Selfishness is immoral

Sexism is immoral

Slavery is immoral

Stealing is immoral

Strikebreaking is immoral

Torture is immoral

Totalitarianism is immoral

Union-busting is immoral

War is immoral

Xenophobia is immoral

    —By Harry Siitonen, Oct. 1, 2008