in memory of John Beecher 1953, westbound from Boston on the Lake Shore Limited, steel whining on steel through Berkshire pines, skirting the hems of Ontario and Erie—we hadn’t yet reached Gary but you could smell it miles out—the sickly sweet of sulfur and God knows what else on the prevailing westerly. Blood orange sun setting, dusk daubed with brushstrokes of rose and red. Postcard perfect, so we thought, until we hit the city limits, its copse of pencil-thin smokestacks spewing a haze of bile green, burnt umber, smoky orange and purple, blast furnaces aroar with white-hot heat sucking oxygen from the air, the Bessemer converters ridding pig iron of impurities, a shrew’s brew of ammonia, benzene and hydrochloric— an underworld foundry here on Earth. And who remembers Donora?—only five years earlier when 70 died—gagged on smog from steel and zinc plants, the inversion of air, the trapped poisons without a breath of wind to purge the valley. I think of Beecher, his poems— the Birmingham mills in the 20s— of Old Man John the Melter, who knew good steel by the look of it, wouldn’t tap it ‘til it was right, the pourers, casters and rollers— how Beecher himself worked those mills until the accident, felt the prevailing winds, stood tall for steely men and Mother Earth. His reward? —Blackballed in the 1950s witch-hunts for not signing a loyalty oath.
Krikor Der Hohannesian’s poems have appeared in over 275 literary journals including The South Carolina Review, Atlanta Review, Louisiana Literature, Connecticut Review, Comstock Review and Natural Bridge. He is a five-time Pushcart Prize nominee and author of three books, “Ghosts and Whispers” (Finishing Line Press, 2010), “Refuge in the Shadows” (Cervena Barva Press, 2013) and “First Generation” (Dos Madres Press, 2020).“Ghosts and Whispers” was a finalist for the Mass Book awards poetry category in 2011. First Generation was selected as a “must read” by Mass Book Awards in 2021.