Bridge & Tunnel Books

A Night at the Pump House 2018

"Fence" by Jesse Welch

The fence closes off a closed mine

Sealing a place bankruptcy

Long since evacuated

The entrance to an exit

To a mine with no miners

But with miles of maze

Hardhat-high and hopeful for eternity

But completely empty

The newspapers can’t agree

A modern myth born of a lack of care

Or fact-checking

Or documentation

In 2002

Poor finances closed 100 men from their jobs

Maybe 150

At most 200 men every worked

Beneath the surface

But when fires burned underfoot in the 90s

300 of the evacuated

Capped off the smoke licking their heels

Devouring the very coal

We sought to make our supper

But the mythology agrees on one thing

That teenagers can read clearly

When the “high voltage” sign

Was put in place

By someone who hasn’t paid an electric bill

In 15 years

A barrier becomes a doorway

A fence to be scaled and summitted

Jacket pillowing the barbs at top

So your date won’t get their hands dirty

There’s so little to explore in a city

So little territory unmapped, unlogged,

Un-turned into a yoga studio

Daytime invitations are important to note

A torn fence

A broken lock

An entrance to a space forgotten

A capitalist catacomb

Reinventing itself in the hands

Of every kid who needs a space

To call their own

Who needs to be forgotten

Or to forget

Just for a moment

In a land of concrete and mirrors

And people on people on people

I could never stargaze growing up

Most stars I ever counted was 10

And 2 of them might have been the lights

On a cell tower

But the postal service

Never planned their walls well

So I’d lay on the asphalt

Between the tires of slumbering trucks

And watch the trains go by

Their wheels a prayer rattle

To somewhere new

To finding a space to breathe

In a claustrophobic wonderland

When I walk to work each day

I pass a break in the wall beneath a bridge

A half torn fence beckons its doorway

The KEEP OUT sign has fallen

Has rusted

Hasn’t been moved in years

I’ve grown too old to run away

But it’s nice to be invited



JESSE WELCH is a Chicago slam poet currently residing in Pittsburgh. He is the director of Young Steel, Pittsburgh's award-winning youth poetry slam, and the co-founder of the Nasty Slam, Pittsburgh’s Head-to-Head deathmatch slam. Once the 28th ranked slam poet internationally, he represented Young Chicago Authors at National Poetry Slam (NPS) 2009, Seattle Poetry Slam at NPS 2013 as the Seattle Poetry Slam Grand Slam Champion, and Pittsburgh at NPS 2015. He has been performing his poetry since he was 12 years old, and appears in the award-winning documentary Louder Than A Bomb.  

Heather McAdams