Poems & Prose

 by Michael Adams
Genre: Poetry & Prose, Trade Paper - 6X9 Digest size
Publisher: Lummox Press (PO Box 5301 San Pedro, CA 90733-5301) www.lummoxpress.com
Pages: 144

Publishing Date: May 2010

Retail: $15 + shipping

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See the Steel Valley Promotional Video

Michael Adams grew up in a steel town near Pittsburgh, PA.  He has a B.A. in Anthropology and a Master’s degree in planning, both from the University of Pittsburgh.  He is the author of five books of poetry and essays, including Broken Hand Peak (Turkey Buzzard Press, 2008) Underground (Longhand Press, 2007) and Between Heaven and Earth (Elik Press, 2004).   Whistleblowers (Turkey Buzzard Press 2009) is his most recent work, like Underground a collaboration with the poets James Taylor III and Phil Woods.  These three poets perform together as the Free Radical Railroad.  Michael is the winner of the 2007 Mark Fischer Poetry Prize, awarded by the Telluride Writers Guild.  He now lives in Lafayette, CO with his wife, Claire.

Steel Valley can be purchased from Lummox Press (where you can get a signed copy at no extra charge) or by going to Amazon.com.

"Steel Valley is Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology on steroids, mega-steroids, moved forward into the 21st century with all the love and pain and remorseless human dignity in the face of our crumbling institutions you can ever imagine."

Jared Smith (from a review published in Small Press Review, July 2010)

Here are a few excerpts from the book...


Looking back now, forty years gone,

my lack of curiosity about the river

I lived with daily disappoints me.


Maybe that’s the way of youth,

to be fixated on origins and ends –

things far off, the cold mountain spring,

the distant sea, not the everyday.


The river itself, a slow brown ox,

harnessed to the yoke of industry,

was as common as my neighbors

and as of as little interest.


            I carried with me in those days, before life touched me with failure

and some sympathy, the hard stone of intolerance that the young may bear

for the familiar, to mask their fear and uncertainty.


From the bluffs above Lock and Dam #2

I watched the tugs push their coal barges downriver,

imagined the days and nights of their long journeys,

past Pittsburgh, down the Ohio to the soft-banked Mississippi,

past all the towns with their wonderful sounding names --

            Gallipolis, Oceola, Tallulah --


Dreamed of the bayous and salt-washed rivers,

sea-tangled with life --

ibises and spoonbills startling

the cypress swamps --

and the hot green cities –

            Baton Rouge, New Orleans --

copper-haired women, skin sheened with sweat,

and the ice-hot wail of a saxophone

calling down heaven.



Steel Valley, Pennsylvania


God's Son Lay Down 

God's son walked down the street, His son

walked down East Colfax Ave. on a Jan. morning,

1AM, in the snow, torn

sneakers and an alto sax and nowhere

to rest his head, nowhere except

in the lap of an old junkie whore,

and God's son lay down his dark head there,


Lay down his head on the altar of flesh

weary of preaching love,

offering his music of love.

But no one hears –

that we are all each other,

and all one, and each

of us is holy

and the earth is holy,

this old battered boot-worn earth.


But no one hears and so God's son

lay down his head again to die

and be reborn with the new day, reborn to preach

his only commandment,


To love that old bum, that old drunk vet,

that old woman smelling of vomit

and despair who once was

someone's daughter,

and someone’s daughter on the street now –

15 years old and run-away, pregnant punching bag

with needle nightmares,


His son lay down his head because no one

wanted to hear about love, only

about vengeance and sin,


And God's son lay down his weary head

with it's undying burden of sorrow,

which is no more or less than joy offered

and not taken, lay down

his weary head in a back alley in the snow

in the lap of an old whore

and blew softly, softly

to his Father, the prayer

of his music.



Dolores and I drive the winding blacktop that hugs Cement Creek, sunny May morning, coming down from Gladstone and the Sunnyside Mine - -all abandoned now --  back to Silverton. High above, the sun shines on the slopes of Storm Peak, but we’re at the bottom of the valley, running through a dark boreal forest of spruce and fir.  Dolores points out the grade of the old narrow-gauge railroad -- built in the 1880s -- that served the mine, closed since the early 1990s, last working silver mine in San Juan County, the rails pulled up years ago, stacked like rusted cordwood at the railroad station in town.  Signs of bygone mining days all around – falling down buildings, wood silvered with age, holes in the hillsides, slate-blue tailing ponds, and after a few moments of silence I say, those rails might have been made where I grew up, Homestead, Andrew Carnegie’s steel works.  Yes they were, Dolores says, I saw Homestead stamped on the sides of the rails.  And then I see it, you never leave anything behind, you take it all with you, think you’ve left the old mill town, low green hills, the slow brown river, smoke and stink, but it’s all seeped into your pores and still with you right here beside the fast mountain stream and soaring peaks-- the mills of Pennsylvania and mines of Colorado, all tangled together.  Carnegie built his mills, fed them with the blood and dreams of men and women brought by the boatload from Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Italy, Greece, Russia to the hell and hope and struggle of America, a dollar a day, 12 hours, seven days a week, a hundred dollars to the widows when the men died in explosions, cave-ins, fell into vats of molten metal.  He fed it all to the furnaces and mines – ore, coal and men.  Crushed his workers with guns and thugs and mind-numbing labor, made his fortune and built a nation.  Then he gave it all away. 

I learned to swim in the basement of the Carnegie Library in Homestead, fed my love of books there, gazed up in awe at the Tyrannosaurus skeleton in the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, read there about the Rocky Mountains and dreamed.   Now, all these years later, I find a Carnegie Library in Silverton.

How we are shaped by land and water, the work of a lifetime, nothing ever lost, Cement Creek, the Monongahela River, everything carried along --

            Silverton mines quiet, sinking
            by slow stages back into the earth,
            Homestead mills gone to weeds
            and failing memory.

            A dilapidated assay office,
            beside it, a rusted ore cart –
            filled with black soil
            and raspberry bushes.


Andrew Carnegie


A Train Will Take You

…and I hear far off in the sense of coming night that engine calling our mountain

                                                Jack Kerouac

A train will take you out of yourself, into the ever falling curve of the earth, the star-washed rivers and the flowing hills, and the tractor dust of the prairies and corn-green farms of the prairies, and the cold streets and hot jazz nights of the cities.  Maybe you’re in the lounge car, feet up on the windowsill, watching the Colorado River, the long climb upstream to the headwaters, sage brush to pine to the tall snow-sculpted spruce, and the snow shining on the peaks in the evening light. And the train stops in Fraser in the cool evening air for a smoke break, the smokers in clusters, talking or silent under the first bright stars, as you and your woman walk along the train, smelling the mixed smells of diesel and cigarettes and the saw-mill smell of fresh cut wood until the whistle blows everyone back into the cars for the night run into Denver.  And now you’ve crossed the Continental Divide into the June night of east-flowing waters, and your sleeping wife’s head gentle on your shoulder, the rails rocking you now down towards the great flat plains, and you sway through a tunnel to the big rush of sky and there are the lights of Denver, small against the night and the endless rolling grasslands, and you’re pulled out of yourself, a heart and soul and part of the big land.  And the land calls you and the swift mountain creeks of trout, the slow brown rivers of herons and farms, calls you down the South Platte to the Platte, across Nebraska, the Missouri and the lands of the Mandan and Sioux and trappers, the hard times of the Dust Bowl, the stars bright and close. Here you are on a train, in love with a woman and the breathing of her breath and here you are, too, on the Mark Twain Mississippi, the broad black of the river, blacker than the sky, and the bars and chemical plants and music of St. Louis, down now through the heart of America, your country, stupid and beautiful, it tears your heart out, how you love it, cruel and ugly and as kind and generous as the world all at once.

And the train runs out of the mountains, sheds the close breathing of pines for the big night sky, picks up speed on the flat run across the prairie and into Denver.  Your heart’s far to the east, though, on the Ohio of barges and the mills of Wheeling, and the families of Marietta and Liverpool secure in their beds and the homeless under the salt-stained bridges and the rich criminals in their gated mansions and the working mothers with their clapboard rowhouse children, and the low heartbreak HOOOO of a tug pushing a train of coke barges as the pilot blows his horn coming down from Pittsburgh.  Back up now through the old green hill-steep valleys of youth, the houses and long wooden stairs climbing the hills, past the scarred coal towns and into the old rolling mountains of youth. Chestnut Ridge, Allegheny Mountain, the rock-swift streams, the aching beauty of dogwood and mountain laurel blossoms high on a stony ridge.  And your heart, with its yearning bigger than the years, and its dreams fulfilled or broken or still to come, settling now as the train slows beneath the highways, a light rain falling, switching past the graveyards of buses and the blank warehouses of late night Denver, the weedy margins of train yards and the rain-black puddles of gravel and weeds, and into Union Station, and you nudge your wife gently awake and tell her, here we are.