Vance Osterhout


I had forgotten how it felt
to matter, to know
a grinding gear
in the military machine
with clear missions
the day’s tasks aligned
surmountable with much effort
The feeling had slipped away
until I set foot on deck again
the scents snaking into my nostrils
Sealing wax, jet fuel, non-skid, salt water
the feel of cyanide painted aluminum
the hydraulic bowls were still there
and the BLIN Computer,
recording catastrophe in code
but the gauges had been stripped
this bird wouldn’t fly without engines
I remember what it felt like to be relevant


I work in prayerful labor
and venerate the spirits
engineers are gone to graves
but al-Jazari’s cam still lives
and I reflect in remembrance
focused as a Syracusan Heat Ray
on my stone-faced grandfather
who never smiled until he retired
but applied expert hands
skillfully blending turbine blades
and I hope this benediction
honours the ancestors well
so that my many weighty transgressions
might be lifted
from these weary shoulders


Phase-changer fires
flame hurricane spiraling out
but something has gone wrong
deep inside, welds burst
shaking, an unholy cacophony
vibration rattles tubes and cams
bringing obsolescent mercury switches
to their shattering threshold
internal failure
even boilers have hearts


Vance Osterhout is a boiler mechanic and pseudo-scholar, former Marine and student of History. His works appear in all sorts of places; under rocks, on mountain tops and in caves.