Mudlark No. 60 (2016)

Steel Town

Worse than I remembered — every block
with boarded-up stores, leveled 
gray lots. Some arsonist hasn’t been
caught for a year, even gutted 
the City Building where Rita’s Beauty Parlor 
was on the fifth floor for 23 years.

Rita had to cancel Mom out the day of the fire.
I look a sight, Mom phoned to tell me.
I can't bring myself to make the turn:

grounded like ocean liners impervious, at last,
to fire and flood and gypsy moths;
portholes protected with wire,

shattered anyway with well-aimed rocks;
barricaded gangways scrawled with red — JOBS!
up yours! suckee!

I have my father’s CIO dues pin from the year 
he worked at Republic. August 1941. 
Did he get one every month?

Why did he keep it?
Why did he keep a loaded Derringer
under the work bench in the basement?

A bigger version of me — long skinny feet,
the hated freckles (they called him Turkey Egg 
back on the farm). We let Mom do all 

the talking (he, she says now, 
had no father and never learned).
The unsaid was ours, a secret

handshake, a kind of poetry.
I was a tongue-tied child. 
What did I know?

What do I know now,
pounding out words to convince him?
And of what? 

That fifty-plus years ago he should have 
taken on the law-and-order boys?


Oh, Sudie, you always sided with your Daddy.
Don’t you like him anymore? Now that he’s dead.
Why do I have to talk into that contraption?
Don’t squinch my eyes? I look like a corpse?
Well... you brought that thing.
Here’s my advice to my daughter: Don’t 

stir up trouble. Over talking to Uncle Bob — 
don’t believe a word he says. Dredging up 
that awful strike. Of course we never talked of it
when you were a child. Ancient history 
even then. Divided the town. 
Best forgot.

Where was Daddy during the strike?
He worked at the Chevy garage. Yes, his boss
was on the Law and Order Committee. Yes,
Grampa sold real estate. With an office downtown.
Grampa and Daddy would never shoot people.
Daddy was a hard worker.

What do you mean, where do you draw the line?
You worry me, Sudie. You and your
notions. We should never have sent you
to that fancy college.
Took out a second mortgage.  
I remember one time Daddy and I came to visit —

I was wearing a cotton dress. All the other mothers
had on knit suits. We drove into Columbus 
and bought me a suit. Your roommate Julie’'s mother 
had a gold necklace with a little clock.
But you were just as pretty as Julie. You always
had such pretty hair.  And now you say 

money doesn’t matter! My mother told me
it’s just as easy to marry a rich man as a poor —
I wish I’d listened to my mother.
When we built this house — you were five years old —
well, a shell of a house and no money 
for a driveway or cupboards.

Oh, I’d say I’ve had a good life. But people 
always try to take what’s mine. Even now, old 
and alone, and neighbors trying 
to take what's mine. Even when I was a little girl.
That’s why I sit in the dark — so no one 
can sneak up behind.

Sue D. Burton | Republic’s Girl
Contents | Mudlark No. 59 (2015)