a poem by Tom Barlow

Beautiful Dreams

There is still beauty in this abandoned 

steel mill, like the face of an old warrior 

on his bier. I imagine I can smell men's 

sweat in the morning glories rampant 

on the chain link fences and feel the 

slick residue of the quenching tanks 

between my thumb and forefinger. The 

shadows of smokestacks mark the 

crumbling pathways trodden by 

steelworkers in coveralls and hard hats 

at shift change, on their way to pour 

molten steel from the furnace into the 

ingots that went to war or Wall Street. 


There on the long bench by the corrugated 

door our grandfathers sat at three in 

the morning with their braunschweiger 

sandwiches and thermoses of coffee, 

sharing visions of the lives their children 

would lead, far from the pitiless mills of 

eastern Ohio, far from filthy hands and 

lungs. How can any of us pass this silent 

hulk without stopping to thank them for 

such beautiful dreams?

Tom Barlow is an Ohio USA poet and fiction writer whose work has appeared in anthologies including They Said (Black Lawrence) and Best New Writing, and journals including Hobart, Temenos, Forklift Ohio, Redivider, Your Daily Poem, and the Stoneboat Literary Journal.