An Immigrant’s Grandson Visits His Hometown

by Tom Bajoras

Broken panes of glass
form a dusty chessboard on the factory wall;
smokestacks point skyward
like snuffed out ends of cigarettes.

No one else is here today
except the ghosts of men bent from toil,
bones fragile from age
and the heat of the blast furnace.

But they were the kind of men
who could not be stopped
by pain or exhaustion,
not after having crossed an ocean
to this promised land of milk and molten steel.

My grandfather
like most of them
worked extra shifts
so his son could have a better life,
and so his grandson could stand here now
and write a poem he could not have read.
He did not live to see this day,
but by faith he knew it would come.

What he could not have known
was that the factories would be gone,
and men would carry smartphones
instead of tools.

Through the dusty glass,
I catch a glimpse of flames and sweat,
and I wonder if sometimes at night
the ghosts still meet,
for old times’ sake,
and light the furnace one more time.

If I could jump this padlocked gate
and join that crew,
I wonder what I would tell them about my life.
And what would they tell me?
Maybe just that I am the answer
to their prayers.