“I Am the Rouge”

The Working People’s Poetry Contest Winner of 2011

By Gregg Shotwell

At a time when unions are on the ropes and people question whether the labor movement will survive, it is prudent to reflect on who we are and where we come from. At one time the UAW set the benchmark for working conditions in the USA. In 2011 UAW members at Ford are the only UAW members who have the right to strike and therefore truly bargain.

The Rouge is a Ford Motor Company factory built between 1915 and 1927 on the Rouge River in Dearborn, Michigan. It was the first manufacturing site that included everything needed to produce a car: a steel mill, a glass plant, a power plant, auto parts, and an assembly line. Over 100,000 workers were employed at the Rouge in the 1930s.

One might say, a river of humanity runs through it. 

I Am the Rouge

Long hours in the factory

have transformed me.

I have become the assembly line

crawling like a centipede

through the concatenation 

of time clock rhythms

and pneumatic sighs.

I whisper and hiss,

clang and grate,

squeak and groan.

I am the song of tired bones and

worn out shoes on concrete floors.

I am the dream of youth forsaken.

I am the sprocket of fear 

I can’t escape.

I am the teeth in the gear.

I am the cog, the shaft, the wheel

of the conveyor.

I am the block and tackle,

pulley and cable.

I am the hourly drone

of monotonous doom.

I bow to the Madonna of Machinery

whose nipples are like grease fittings,

whose crankcase is a womb.

I am the fire in the foundry.

I am the pit.

I twist nuts, shoot screws, 

and spit rivets like slang.

My fingers are pliers,

my wrists are wrenches,

my fist a stubborn 

ball peen hammer.

I am the numb brain

and the long drive home.

I am the lone neon sign

blinking in the dark rain

—Last Chance—Last Chance—Last Chance—

My eyes are tail lights fading in the distance.

I am the strain in the torsion bar.

I am the harness.

My arms bear the scars of my labor

like randomly tattooed emblems of honor. 

I have become the soul of production,

the powertrain of perpetual motion,

the chassis of suspended mobility.

I am the thunder in the die,

the blue flame of the weld,

the fume in the lung of the painter.

I am a centerless grinder,

a lathe, a drill.

I am tinnitus, carpal tunnel, 

the copper coil of repetitive trauma.

I am the key in the ignition,

the spark plug,

the throttle.

My blood is thicker than oil.

My saliva more toxic

than cutting fluid.

I am the heart of the engine,

the phallic piston,

the cam of accelerating continuity.

I am the hub 

of mechanical wisdom

and spiritual ingenuity.

I am steel toed, hard headed,

and hydraulic.

I lift and crank and twist

and laugh at pain.

I am the still point of torque.

I am the fender, the axle, the bolt

in the tie rod.

I am the strut and swagger

of the driver

as he pops the clutch and 

pushes the pedal to the floor.

I am the grumble of the muffler.

I am the Rouge.

I was here, Mr. Ford, 

before you were born.

I will be here, Mr. Ford, 

when you

are a long time gone.,