by David Salner
I had been stacking forty-pound ingots in the heat, working to the point of exhaustion. I walked to the open furnace, attracted by the way it shone in the darkness, fascinated by the peaceful appearance of the liquid, so ordinary, like a pool of water.
This was my first shift in the foundry, my first view of a furnace of magnesium at 1300f.
A waist-high rim of bricks was all that separated me from the glowing pool inches away. As I stared, a change took shape in the depths of the furnace. The core was now suffused with a faint rose shadow that deepened before my eyes, as if the metal had come alive, blushing.
I stood over the furnace as my face baked, my skin a crust of heat. I was transfixed by the flux, now blood-red, but changing again, rising, blooming from the depths of the coloration, swelling until the silver skin of the metal began to split. An open wound, then another, another. Dozens of strawberry blisters riddled the sheen.
“Turn that fucking furnace down,” a voice boomed. “The damn metal’s burning.”
Someone in another room dialed the furnace temperature down, and the blush began to subside. That individual was not a doctor but, I later discovered, a metal refinery operator, an MRO. Meanwhile, someone else ran to the rim of bricks and sprinkled a dust of lemon-colored sulfur on the blisters, choking the burns, healing the skin.
Magnesium is not so much a metal as a creature that needs to be nursed.
The furnace was peaceful again. A silver sheen covered it, hiding its suffering flesh.
David Salner’s second book, Working Here, was published by Minnesota State University’s Rooster Hill Press. His poetry appears in recent issues of The Iowa Review, Poetry Daily, and Threepenny Review. He worked for 25 years as an iron ore miner, magnesium plant worker, and general laborer.