Unsmoked Systems | Literary Arts | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Unsmoked Systems 

We find refuge in smokestacks,
warehouses and condemned
Catholic school buildings turned
gallery spaces, Unsmoked Systems,
walls expanding to received images
those who enter cannot relinquish,
a bearded man walking naked
holding a rifle, probably drawn
by smoke or some other sign of home,
now trapped in an art gallery
across from Edgar Thomson Steel,
the plant’s smokestacks hazing sunset
more brilliant, forgetting crimson waves
of Pinkerton guards who a century ago
clubbed strikers on the orders of Frick,
beating them not to punish but to annihilate
these men, mostly Hungarians and Poles,
who arrived in Pittsburgh with bundles
of coins sewn into their rags,
suddenly dismantled, bones broken,
skulls cracked on pavement,
the payment required for passage
between here and whatever underworld
could be less desirable kept by the priest
who watched the riots from inside
these school walls, not daring to intervene
& thus production continues
with skeleton crews, the steel plant
an automated amnesia.
Where is our home, what teaches
and what is learned, what can be
scraped from rusting carcasses,
where the beauty that quenches power?

— Brandon Dean Lamson

Brandon Dean Lamson is an assistant professor of English at Bethany College, where he teaches creative writing and literature. His collection of poems entitled Starship Tahiti won the 2012 Juniper Prize for Poetry and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in March. He is also the author of a chapbook of poems titled Houston Gothic (LaMunde Press, 2007) and his poems have appeared in many places, including Brilliant Corners, Nano Fiction, Pebble Lake Review and Hunger. A native of southern Maryland, he taught for three years at an alternative school on Rikers Island. He lives on the South Side.


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