midgley
Midgely Bridge, Sedona, AZ (image by Jesse)

We’re metal, we’re ‘Mericans. We mine it, we make it, we drive it, we drink it. We’re metal. We have it in our teeth. Our joints. Our jewelry. Our music. So when they told me I had toxic levels of metal in my blood: mercury, barium, and lead, I said, “Toxic?” I am not toxic. Medical fodder. I am an American. I grew up in the Motor City. Where we eat metal for breakfast. Well, not really. But of course I have metal in my blood! I thought, duh.  I am made in Detroit. Bob Seeger in my bones. Metal’s cool, right?

Laden with lead I’m laced up tight
toxic tongue it tastes just like
licking a silver chain link fence
I read the results of my urine test
listed symbols a steel-belted caress
maybe no memory damage for me
just antique holes lining my teeth
filled with barium or mercury
elements bounce like a battery
my age saves my IQ, luckily
I’ll drink to that, maybe

Well, right or wrong, I am heavy in thought about all this. This diagnosis, timed with news stories of Flint, lead in the water, Cleveland. The rust belt. Metal stories. I see and feel metal everywhere now.  Question it. Admire it. Taste it. Write about it. Malleable. Put a little heat on, and it’s liquid. Well, a lot of heat. Freeze it, why bother. It’s already rock solid. My dad used to solder iron in his television repair business. My brothers used to make toy lead soldiers.  We’re metal. I grew up with metal. I’m metal.

metal Collage

Not the thirsty kids from Flint
their brains all sourly weighed in
heavy metals fill their heads
found in their bottles, wiped on their bread
well-paid bureaucrats – no chagrin
pumped out autos from foundries now vapid
so let them manage water for citizens
just how hard could it have been?
maybe they chewed on sweet paint shreds
when they were hungry children

I am a woman of two cities now. Both small, southwestern, high desert. And both known for their natural beauty. Vistas and sunsets that adorn the covers of magazines across the globe. Sedona. Flagstaff. Oak Creek Canyon. Grand Canyon. I live and breathe the clear nights, dark skies, thin air. I hike daily on the trails that take me into the forest, the desert, the quiet. Always so quiet. The opposite of Detroit where I grew up. New York where my daughter lives. There is never quiet there. Metal and noisy. But as I contemplate the metal in my blood, my upbringing, my car, I hear the noise, see the stream of things elemental that tie us together. From lead coursing through our blood to the rage steering our early morning vehicles. Gotta get to work. Gotta get to work.

Driving around a sharp curve I see
a blast explode from an Odyssey
the sad blind face of maternal rage
like an overheated radiator, there she sprays
from behind the wheel, ejects and spins
opens the back door, leans over, dives in
disappears like a bowed dipstick
into the void of working motherhood
the bend in the road deepens and climbs
I lose site of her soccer van behind me
the cooling car, her clean scrubs
poor kids, a quart low, she succumbs

I was approached once at a red light, both of my daughters in the back seat, buckled in, munching Cheerios on our way to their grade school. Traffic had to weave through a brand new construction zone. It hadn’t been there the day before. It was haphazardly laid out, and it took us all by surprise. I didn’t conquer it perfectly, but safely nonetheless. However, the woman behind me didn’t like my maneuvering apparently. I hadn’t cut her off, although it had been an option, and we found our way to line up safely behind the red. She and I, and a half dozen other cars with working parents and children in tow. She didn’t like the almost of the moment. Or perhaps she didn’t like her life. She came to my window to yell at me, enraged, and spouting words, literally, beyond really being understandable. I only opened my window a crack. She seemed a bit off. And then she said, “Do you realize you have kids in your car?” The light turned green, and those kids and I laughed all the way to their school. We’re heated up us humans. Carrying lots of weight. Soldered. Sometimes we have to let it go.

Headlines feature the great Midgely Bridge
adorned in new fencing like rails on a crib
galvanized protection, high posts up the sides
Oak Creek reports rising suicides
at least one jump every few weeks
distraught women, untethered teens
they forge gravity’s clear surprise
and that of the hikers terrorized
a thump on the trail, the trekker looks up
at tourists sunning on the sheer cliffs above
watching the cool water rushing below
didn’t see a thing, they’ll never know

Heavy metal. Guitar strings, razors, little tiny computer chips. Forks, keys, bed springs. We are sensually inundated, inaugurated, with and by metal. All day long. All night long. Even when we head off into the wilderness. It is in the blood we carry. The water we drink. The dust we breathe. We are metal. I am not toxic. I am just metal.

Top of the hill, stopped at the end
a long line of cars waiting impatient
windshield ahead says “eat shit” in the dust
kid in the back sucks the grime from his glove
the angry driver takes an illegal left
cuts off a Mack truck, shaking his head
he passes me screeching, my hood shivers and shakes
I ate it, I guess, missed the green, now I wait.

tim-gouw-red light

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