Mr. Al's Steam Machine

by Madison Cline

Chrysalis Literary and Arts Magazine
Ferrum College, Fall 2020
Editor, Heather Ellis
Selected for AppLit by Abigail McGovern, 2021-22 editor

Madison Cline, from Christiansburg, Virginia, is a member of the Boone Honors Program with a major in horticulture at Ferrum College (in 2022, when this poem was reprinted here). She enjoys gardening, playing the piano and reading. Her poem is reprinted here with permission after appearing in the Fall 2020 issue of Chrysalis Literary and Arts Magazine.

I remember when I was small,
Skinning knees on cracked pavement 
Ratty hair and crooked teeth
Shoes too tight for growing feet,
Skipping to the old brick house next door.
I danced up the steep cement stairs,
Gazing in fascination at the colorful stained glass door.
The glass was bent and bubbled with age.
A little eye in the corner stared at me,
Warning me that the house was protected by ADT.
It seemed very wise and all-knowing to me, 
Like the mysterious eyes on dollar bills.
I shuddered and rang the doorbell.
My brother stood behind me, waiting in anticipation.
The grimy lock turned in its socket.
“Who is it?” a thick German voice called.
“It’s Maddie and Evan, Mr. Al!”
“Ah. Come in!”
“Come in!”
We shuffled through the door and kicked off our shoes.
His house was full but empty.
It was crammed with knick knacks and photos
Perfectly clean and shining, 
Full of memories and laughter
But the rest of the dwelling was dusty and unused.
It looked as though no one had visited in ages.
It was like he was trying to relive memories from long ago…
Memories captured in paper and glass.
A picture of Mr. Al and his wife stood on the coffee table,
Her glass birds still hung from iron bars of the stairs
And all of her possessions were untouched. 

“Your Grandpap said you wanted to see the steam machines,”
He said.
A big grin wrinkled his paper-thin skin, pale blue eyes gleaming.
He led us into his red-carpeted basement.
There were rows and rows of steam machines
Some small enough to curl around your pinky finger
And others too heavy for shelves to bear.
They filled every nook and cranny.
They were shiny and dull
Copper and steel
Iron and brass.
Some were angular and rigid
While others had smooth sleek tubes.
The tubes were like arteries connected to a hollow heart
The wooden barrel waiting to be filled with life-giving water.
He chose a polished brass machine and heaved it into the air.
Its tubes twisted around like frozen metallic snakes.
“Let’s go out to the shed.”
We slid on our shoes and strode out the back door
Treading through 
Perfectly trimmed grass.
A little shed and old black, 
table sat waiting for us
And oil cloths and bottles
littered the ground.
He carefully placed the machine onto the table
And filled the little oak barrel with water.
The water bubbled and steam rushed through the tubes.
Gear turned, cogs spun, and the engine whistled
 like a teapot.
Our eyes shone with wonder at the sight.
He explained the workings in great detail,
But I could hardly pay attention.
The remarkable machine astonished me.
I wanted to reach out and touch it, 
To feel the artificial life 
Despite being burned.

copyright 2022 Madison Cline
all rights reserved

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