The American Journal of Poetry
"Strong Rx Medicine"®


Sue D. Burton

Back Home from NYC & Ohio, Sitting on My Front Steps, I'm Looking Out at the Verge, that Grassy Strip between the Sidewalk & the Street--in Ohio We Called it The Devil's Highway,--& I'm Thinking about America & Art & the Dead Steel Town where I Grew Up & the "Mill"--Now a Storage Yard for Fracking Pipe, Hundreds of Miles of Steel Pipe









At the Guggenheim, Maurizio Cattalan’s “America,”

an 18-karat gold toilet


a valuable, ostentatious object

that anyone can use


fully functional… participatory…

unprecedented intimacy with a work of art


My friend Michael & I saw the line & we declined—though we peeked in as a very Brooks Brothers guy emerged. The gold throne gleamed ironically in its little understated stall.





                                             & at the Massillon Museum (MassMu)

                     a homemade billy club, relic of the Little Steel strike,

       leather, wood, lead, flexible handle, 1937, acquisition #94.127


                                           sticks & baseball bats vs. Republic’s

                                         rifles, bombs, machine guns


                     & a common role to play,


                                           rescuing people trapped in blazing

                            buildings—by smashing windows or even doors





& there is the grave of Fulgencio Calzada, long-forgotten striker shot in the back of the head, 1937, by Massillon city police hired on by “Little” Republic Steel. Massillon, Ohio, where I grew up, first time back in the fifteen years since my mother died, & at the Erie Street Cemetery, Calzada’s tombstone is face down in the dirt, a four-foot granite cross, & I don’t think it toppled in the wind.





The verge—the city owns it, but I keep it tidy. Metaphor in there someplace. A devil to mow.


Always I’d go to Calzada’s grave. My mother hovering at the window, I’ll have a heart attack if you’re not back in an hour. At the window in the dining room, by the table piled with coupons. But now she’s resting in her own grave, & I was back to read a poem. Don’t talk about it, divided the town. The great divide. The woman sawn in half.





                                             Polar bears. Frogs. Steelworkers.



                                                    On the verge of





SOAR (Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees) hosted the event. To celebrate a book about the ’37 strike—finally, finally!—a brilliant author, & nice, too. I was the opening gig. In MassMu’s community room, two floors down from acquisition #94.127. I read only my stanzas about the strike, not about my family.


I couldn’t tell what they thought of my poem, but I heard gasps when I said Calzada’s cross was down.





                                             Republic paid Calzada’s wife $250

                                           (liability) for the death of her husband.


                                        The Steel Workers Organizing Committee

                                       took up a collection for his cross (1937).





                                              billy club—leather, lead (what                                           

                                         contextualizes art?), handmade





America”—18-k version of a “readymade”


that anyone can use—as long as you

happen to be at the Gugg


democracy at its finest—





endlessly long line, security guards





Has “America

changed your life?





                                              House on fire. Who or what

                                     knocked down the cross?





& today in Stark County, Ohio, the retired steelworkers (SOAR) have come to right Calzada’s cross. I have a friend who always says—not Michael, he’d never be that presumptuous—Bless you. At the end of dinner, arms outstretched, Bless you. As though he’s some gold-plated guru. But something rises up in me today. I want to bless them.




SUE D. BURTON is a physician assistant specializing in women’s health care. Her poetry has appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Blackbird, Green Mountains Review, Mudlark, New Ohio Review, Shenandoah, and on Verse Daily. She was awarded Fourth Genre’s 2017 Steinberg Prize, and her collection BOX has won the 2017 Two Sylvias Press Poetry Prize (forthcoming 2018).



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