The Cement Plant, Annotated

Joshua Mehigan
Lit Genius

Accepting the Disaster

This poem, from my second book, Accepting the Disaster, is based on my impressions of a real cement plant in Ravena, New York. My sense of the place developed gradually over the 35 years my father worked there as a welder, and more startlingly during the 9 weeks in 1988 when I worked there on a labor crew.

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The plant was 70 miles from our home. Before I worked there I never visited, and if you asked my father after work how his day had gone, he’d say “Don’t ask.” But over the years he told a lot of vivid stories about guys he worked with—bored dangerous antics, pranks and fistfights, now and then a lost finger or an explosion that made the news, and then sporadic labor unrest and the impassive and oblivious management. In any case, it wasn’t till I’d worked there myself that I finally saw how unbelievable the place was.

My father did a lot of things there. He welded fan blades and front-end-loader buckets and repaired cracks in the plant’s giant rotary kilns, but his main job was to repair the conveyor screws that push cement around the factory. My job, for part of a summer, was to help clean up the tons of cement that escape during processing and accumulate where they aren’t supposed to be.

I wrote “The Cement Plant” in 1998 and liked it, but my friends told me it was bad so I put it away. Years later, my wife, Talia, saw it in my files and said I should keep it. After making a few changes, I showed it around and my new friends liked it, so I put it in my current book. It was first published in 2012, in Poetry.

(Via Lit Genius)

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  • Guest

    Thank goodness for new friends.

    EG

  • Crosswords

    That was good. It seemed clumsy, but worked. Dust is the stuff of our culture – “from dust to dust …” – and here a cement works is made into poetry. Growing up in a city before the Clean Air Act, dust was a bigger part of my life than I care to remember. And my furious cycle ride past the local chemical works while holding my breath against the stench suddenly feels like a line from a poem.