Love on the Mon

Leslie Anne Mcilroy

I. Scaffolding

You can’t build this thing anywhere, and can only rebuild it here, where know-how lives in the pavement and the steel belly of the city, where the cinder still burns in old-men hearts, where occasionally a young boy says “mill,” looking out with wonder past Kennywood’s coasters to see the smokestacks leaning and cracked.

 *

We forged things here, you and I, in the time we were given with fire — we were lovers and seekers and promises and flame. We counted on timing, the just-right temperature of the ore and craftsmanship, how we came together wanting only that tenable thing made fluid with heat. We were destined for landscape, to make the rich envious, to pay love’s labor with food and large drinks. We were mighty and unbreakable — and sexy.

 *

I dressed for you in my gear, you raised the flame to my naked body, we were the artists of love and how many times did we lie down in the break room behind slabs of steel, the carbon and iron, to cast shadows high in the sky, the crafting of this thing so strong only bridges could be made from it — only ships and scaffolding and yes, stars.

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II. Missing Kitten

So imagine how strange it was to wake one morning to cold ovens and quiet in the shift room, where we sat drinking coffee and muttering something about shutdowns and bread lines. You admitted putting on weight. I said something about menopause. We took to gentrification — the scotch and films, the art, the product.

 *

And oh, how we argued. You wanted process, to write, to play music. I wanted fame, approval, the result. I envied your grace to create without praise. You said my determination was bound to get me somewhere. Never once did we step down into the furnace to see what had gone bad, what was left in the ash. We bundled up and went out to see the city we had made. It was lovely and passed the time. So many shops and donuts and good beer in heavy glasses. Dive bars and cigarettes, fancy vegetarian soufflés.

 *

It wasn’t long before the three rivers failed to meet, the skyline raised its ever-widening techno marquis and even the Civic Arena came to be replaced (not rebuilt) by the Consol Energy Center. It made us sad. Civic, so bright and promising — so inclusive; Consol, so melancholy, like bringing tea to the broken, a missing kitten, a disappointing encore.

 *

We were lost, even in our own bed. The world felt rust and ugly, the industrial left to rot and its pollution done up in the lungs of the dead. No need to breathe now. And how could you?

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III. What Holds Up

It is here that we start taking daytrips to North Braddock (the Edgar Thompson, I think) like archivists looking to explain collapse. On the way we tell stories of hey days, leaving out the graphic parts that made us squirm: how we did that in the shameless spotlight of the Bessemer, stripping down in the heat, how we didn’t care who watched and that shop in Homestead, the one with the whips and corsets, remember?

 *

We remembered. We made ourselves. We packed lunches, stumbled through the ramshackle refinery, upended the cavernous works — coke and limestone — looking for something to remind us of what it meant to really live in this hot place — to work at it, use our bodies, know the magnificence of something solid, rugged, real.

 *

We brought a lighter and some books and a steelyard of patience. We brought each other; we had to. Who can bear the one-sidedness of a narrative, even this, how the story is told from one perspective, which is surely skewed, much like the beams in the junkyard that never passed inspection, that never held anything up. How else could we write the story of our love? How else would it survive? You say the exit was here. I say that was the office. You say I was the foreman, I say you were the magnate. Neither one of us remembers doing a lick of work. It was that easy, wasn’t it? Until it wasn’t.

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IV. On Purpose

Some things will never be agreed upon because memories are so fluid and shaped. Some things you have to fight for, take pictures, show scars and burns. It is in this way that we continue to negotiate the revolution, our place in our history, blame. It is in this way that we begin to shovel the waste from the iron gate and walk inside.

 *

And even if nothing comes of it, we will have the soot under our nails, the scraps and slag, that thing you said about purpose, which stopped us both close to the entry of the mine. How you have to love on purpose with even the wasted, forsaken part of your heart — the thing that got you and left you here. How love has to be reconstructed, reframed, melted down and re-wrought and then, with your hands, again.

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Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space, the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for her chapbook Gravel and the 1997 Chicago Literary Awards Competition judged by Gerald Stern. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008 and her current manuscript, Dreaming of Men, was a finalist for the 2013 Autumn House Press Poetry Prize. Leslie’s work appears in numerous publications including Dogwood, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, New Ohio Review, Pearl and is forthcoming in PANK. Leslie is Managing Editor of HEArt — Human Equity through Art — Online (heartjournalonline.com) and works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh, PA, where she lives with her daughter Silas. Poems & performances: lamcilroy.com.