The Dinner Pail

Robert Gibb

Photo courtesy of Steve Simko

Less lunchbox than mess kit,
What with that fitted lidAnd handle, the canister set inside it,
Cap threaded tight—All got toted off to work in the mills,
The pail as much a stapleAs the bread and tea and leftover meats:
Meals unpacked like job lots.At the end of the shift
It went back on the shelfTill the next day, a soon-to-be vestige
Of the Industrial Age.Catalogued here,
The metal’s sheen is gelatin silver,Its tin stamped and banded
Like a galvanized can.I brown-bagged my meals,
Years later, to the 100-inch mill,Though there were days when
My hours by the ovensFlayed me with such heat
I wondered how anyone could eat.

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Robert  Gibb

Robert Gibb was born in the steel town of Homestead, Pennsylvania. He is the author of eleven books of poetry, including The Origins of Evening, which was a National Poetry Series winner. He has received numerous awards, including two National Endowment for the Arts grants, seven Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grants, a Best American Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and The Marsh Hawk Poetry Prize, among others. He lives on New Homestead Hill above the Monongahela River.

Ernest Sandeen Prize in Poetry

Among Ruins is the final volume of Homestead Works, a collection of four books of poetry that explore the industrial past and legacy of the old steel town of Homestead, Pennsylvania, and, by extension, Pittsburgh. National Poetry Series–winner Robert Gibb’s haunting historical narratives capture the Steel City, “Where the crucible mills poured fire, / Slag erupted nightly above the other shore.” The ruins in this book are various—personal, historical, cultural—and are filtered through a variety of perspectives, including the poet’s own as well as those of visual artists (Aaron Harry Gorson and Lewis Hine) who have made Pittsburgh their subject and artists (James Whistler, Eugène Atget, J. M. W. Turner) who have been imagined here.

“Once again Robert Gibb has found a gritty, searing, haunting, bluesy lyricism in the heart of industrial America. His poems remember growing up in and around Pittsburgh, where he still lives amid the ruins and art and photos and repurposed structures where memories remain most available, most scalding. Whether dealing with the danger of steel or steam, the inescapable clamor of machinery, or the shenanigans of youth shadowed and bounded by factory life, Gibb’s fiercely elegant poems explore how a city, a landscape, a person ‘could / heal and yet still be broken.’”
—Floyd Skloot

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