The old mill, thro’ bystander’s eyes,
Is a born-again stone canvas
for walls of oil-splashed abstracts,
landscapes rinsed with water-colours
and requisite flowers engorged in acrylic.
My shadow resents through the studios,
whilst visitors finger iron-forged
and pottered pieces, feigning curiosity.
I am inside, yet outside.
Day-trippers idle here, filling
void hours with Sunday-slurred walks,
and eavesdrop on artists’ fervent strokes.
The mill grounds, a backdrop for
brides trailing flowing veils
and docile grooms who pose
in still-pond tableau,
Crowds nibble on cuisine art
and mime audience for
star-lit Shakespearean acts.
The old mill, thro’ knowing eyes,
can’t disguise its factory hem
under chic artists’ smock.
The newly varnished floors,
Still creak history, and stir memories,
This mill, a forgotten hive of industry,
Is a steadfast employer and
stealer of my young summers.
Once, men steeped in dull routine
dipped trays of ceramic moulds
into liquid-rubber vats, molten hot.
The trays force-fed into gaping oven-mouths,
baked dry with blasts of searing furnace-breath.
Boys with summer-money dreams
stripped the moulds, shedding skins of limp balloons.
In the mill, I sat with rows of women
perched at oily presses, rolling hungrily.
Inflating each balloon, I squeeze
its bloated cheek over
ink-soaked metal beds,
stamping Happy Birthday on
Mickey Moused faces.
Orders shipped to far-off cities
no rubber mill worker will ever see.
The staccato click of counters
tally balloons by the gross,
and tattle on dreamers failing
to reach the day’s endless quota.
Latex hours stretch the day long,
And the factory clock holds me prisoner
With minute hands stalled with boredom.
The old mill thro’ my grown up eyes,
Plays a stone stage for a night of poet songs,
where musings dipped from memory vats,
are melded into prose.
Verses inflated, and pressed onto pages,
roll off the tongue.
Word balloons float above, teasing me
to reach up and catch their meaning.
As I reach, I catch, and my shadow sheds like the skin of a limp balloon.
by Nancy Early