The Cement Plant

The cement plant was like a huge still
nailed in gray corrugated panels
and left out forty-five years ago
in the null center of a meadow
to tax itself to remorseless death
near a black stream and briars, where
from the moment it began to breathe,
it began falling apart and burning.
But it still went, and the men were paid.

The plant made dust. Impalpably fine,
hung in a tawny alkaline cloud,
swept into drifts against mill room piers,
frozen by rain on silo ledges,
dust was its first and its final cause.
Pinups were traced on their car windshields.
Dust gave them jobs, and killed some of them.
Late into evening their teeth grated.
Its product was dust, its problem dust.

The thing was blind to all its own ends
but the one. Men’s ordinary lives,
measured out on a scale alien
to that on which its life was measured,
were spent in crawling the junk machine,
fitting new gaskets, screws, and bearings,
deceiving it towards the mood required
for it to avail and pay. Somehow
it did. None cheered it. It sustained them.

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