Heavy Tells A Story

When Heavy tells a story
the millwright shanty under the electric furnaces
chokes with quiet, amid the roar,
as Heavy pauses, adjusts his mountainous weight
over a creaky grease-stained metal chair
and looks up at the whirling ceiling fan
next to fluorescent lights hanging by wires.
His fingers lace like so many sausages
across the canvas of blue workshirt
on his chest.
 
Heavy tells his story
and the voice of reason quickens the demise
of foulness from red-faced millwrights
just back from a repair job
and sitting around for the five air whistles
that again call them to combat on the furnace floor.
 
All laughter stops, all nonsense sayings
and cuts of wisdom cease their echo
when Heavy tells a story.
 
Heavy talks about the Mexican melter
who once had an affair with the Pit Boss’s wife.
The heart of the problem–and the fact
from which the story’s plot revolves–
was that the melter lived across the street
from the Pit Boss.
One night just before the graveyard shift,
the melter left his home, kissed his wife’s
round face and proceeded to walk to the bus stop.
But a bullet pierced through his hardhat
and he fell, like an overturned stack of fire bricks,
onto the pavement.
The moral of this story:
Never have an affair with someone
whose old man lives
within shooting distance.
 
Heavy tells a story
about a furnace foreman who always yelled
at the laborers for failing to clean
the bag house of the built-up filth
from hours of cooking scrap iron and ore.
The men told him it was too dangerous
to walk on the tin-roofed panels;
their weight could cause
them to fall some 30 feet
into the gaping mouth of a flaming furnace below.
“Nonsense,” the foreman yelled,
“you’re all just lazy Polacks.”
(he called everyone Polacks).
The foreman then proceeded to walk
across the roof as the men stood nearby,
with mouths open, near the safety of side beams.
“You see,” he said standing in the middle
as hydraulics moved shutters
up and down to capture the sulphur dust.
 
Then the foreman moved forward
and before anyone could shout,
he crashed through the roof,
screaming into a reddened pot of molten metal;
the oxygen in his body making popping sounds
as it entered. The furnace operates continued
to pour ladles of scrap iron and to melt the steel.
They skimmed the slag off the top
and when it was ready, they poured
the molten mass into ingot molds.
There was nothing they could do for the foreman,
they said. Production had to keep going.
 
Heavy looks into the eyes of his listeners and says:
Somewhere there’s a skyscraper in downtown LA
with steel beams made from the ingot
with the foreman’s body in it.
Somewhere there’s a bridge or underground pipe
with the man’s remains chemically bound
within the molecular structure.
 
Heavy tells a story. . .
 
and the men lay down their tools,
and coffee is poured into heavy ceramic cups,
the shanty stills beneath the rumbling,
and even foremen stop by
to pay a listen
when Heavy tells a story.

 Luis Rodriguez, "Heavy Tells a Story" from The Concrete River.  Copyright © 1991 by Luis Rodriguez.  Reprinted by permission of Susan Bergholz Literary Services.
More Poems by Luis J. Rodríguez