Work Space: Homecoming: Poems for Marbleman

Robert Gray: Work Space


Marbleman & Me


Homecoming: Marbleman’s Son

The “scenic view”
of Marbleman’s town
is a rest area hard-carved
from Green Mountain bedrock
and buttressed with marble.

Sipping lukewarm coffee, I sit
on the hood of my car, parked
beside the 50-year-old four-lane
locals still call the new road,
up where it edges as close
as it dares to the old
company town, nestled
snug in the valley
like a leaf-peeper’s wet dream
or bleached stone boneyard,
picturesque as hell.


The MillWorks Project


Driving down a stone street. Marble
town office building,
bank, high school, church, library
food market (co-op now,
company-owned then).

Driving out of Marbleman’s town
on Mill Road to the old factory,
expecting decay, finding renovation,
scaffolding, a sign: The MillWorks Project.

Walking across the marble chip parking lot
on a sidewalk of buried slabs,
toward a block of Danby White
standing guard at the main building.
Chiseled on its surface are three Ms:
Millbridge MillWorks Mall

Hearing faint bulldozer revs, spreading fill
at the swamp’s edge, power saw’s whine
from a construction site near the old finishing shop,
where the yard is still littered with debris–
rusty crane rails, rotting A-frame pallets.

Seeing the back of the mill, not renovated
yet, like a movie set, where the cowboy town
disappears just by walking through
a saloon door to nothing
but two-by-fours and wires.


MillWorks Mall Art Studio


There is, of course, the requisite collection
of holy marble icons, angels and Madonnas.
But one table displays a pile of small, rough, flat
marble chunks, on which tiny human hands, feet, ears
and noses have been delicately carved, like fossils.


Marbleman’s Best Friend Says…


You know that fucking restaurant at the MillWorks Mall?
They got blowed-up pictures on the wall of us working
from 30 years ago, back when things was just starting
to go sour, when that newspaper reporter woman
was at the mill. She didn’t listen to nobody, what we said.
Just wrote what the bosses told her and took pictures.

Now we’re fucking wallpaper for a restaurant we can’t afford.
People just get upset about change, that’s what. Remember
Willie Kershaw? He got killed day after the reporter was there?
Block slipped from the crane, crushed the poor bastard
in the middle of the shop floor, where the goddamn dining room
is now? No pictures of that on their fucking walls, is there?

Know what’s in that quarry now? Whatever nobody don’t want: refrigerators, stoves, scrap metal, even cars go down that hole. I seen trucks back up to the edge at night and dump God knows what else. From up here and it just looks like a fucking swimming hole. Only a few left who even know. Fuck the good old days.




Busy Main Street looks deserted to me now, the way
Old West theme parks would drive cowboys to drink.

There was one last immigrant wave, but the Flatlanders
weren’t seeking their fortune here. Brought it with them.

Death is in the air, though Flatlanders can’t pick up the scent
because second homes still harbor that new-life smell.

Marbleman’s town is full the angry dead, its segregated
cemetery a confession of old grudges: Irish, Poles, Italians.

His people lost early and often here; his family, close
and not so close, were sacrificed to accident or nature.

I could have handled things better, but it’s not like Marbleman’s
early death gave a kid much shot at seeing life clear and through.

Maybe it had just seemed nature’s way back then. But that
perspective is an illusion, man, brought on by change of season.

When leaves fall from trees, you see more sky. The stars,
though, they don’t get any closer, and they’re dying, too.


Share the Wealth


Wrapped in a rubber band, copies of
Marbleman’s company newsletter,
Marble Chips:
a banquet for Mill 103’s bowling team;
Johnny Stempek back at work after a long illness;
too many cigarette butts left around the horseshoe pit. 

Editorial cartoon with a suit explaining
Communism to a rolled-up shirtsleeves guy: 

“You can’t ‘share the wealth’
because wealth is production,”
the suit explains. “Only work,
hard work, ever got anybody
anything worth having.”




Marble can endure
17,000 pounds
per square inch
of pressure
without injury. 




To create a marble table top,
mark to size the rough slab
for a coping saw’s blade,
fitted with industrial diamonds.


Then place the flat stone on bed
of a “grit machine,” its abrasive
heads moving in circular fashion,
gliding as it polishes the surface. 


How Marbleman Saved My Life


Once upon a deadly time, I fell through the ice.

Frozen swamp water unreliable, cattails brush
dry reeds, thin ice mimics solid footing,
hidden currents even where it looks safe,
even where boot prints mark the snow.
Things change fast. Bundled in my snowsuit,
orbiting Marbleman as we walked the railroad
tracks out of Millbridge, Darting into the weeds,
mortal combat, cowboys and Indians,
GIs and Nazis. Pow! You’re dead! 

The ice didn’t crack; just dropped away
like a trap door. I bobbed to the surface,
sank again into weightless silence.
He couldn’t swim, scared of open water
since a rough Atlantic passage after the war,
but he crawled across that sagging ice,
plunged an arm into the depths, grabbed
for me, lost his grip, clutched again
and hung on, yanked me back to the noise
of him yelling and me screaming
and choking and spitting up water. 

I could not catch my breath
at first, and then, gradually,
I could. An impossibly long,
shivering walk to the car, stumbling
over wooden ties, Marbleman clutching
my snowsuit’s hood, holding me up
in a frantic bum’s rush. Teeth-chattering ride
home, my terrified sobs, his scared, angry
warning about “bad ice.” Almost too late.