a poem from the labors of our fingertips volume 2

ed jastrzembski, bern township | born: 1939
by jennifer hetrick

i picked up my welding skills in the u.s. navy during peace
time, not an era of war. we’d been in japan, singapore, hong
kong, and india, crew members for aircraft carriers in sky.
then back at home, my eyes skimmed the newspaper, an ad

for a job. reading bodies interviewed me, gave me a welding
test. i passed. i started maybe in 1961. by day, i made a home
in the body shop in special divisions where we fabricated

parts for utility bodies like ambulances, fire rescue trucks.
shelving doors, floors—we welded what was needed. in 1967,
i quit to take a job at cartech on bern street at the edge
of the city of reading, not far from the schuylkill river.

the tiniest and most massive heaps of metal out in our
world often come from the heat and bending of carpenter
steel. the tools a dentist uses on your teeth, seatbelt latches,

filaments in headlights of cars, the silver shine of fuel
injectors, oneida’s forks and spoons, the lunar module,
landing gear on f/a-18 hornets—one had its first flight
in 1978. with my wife’s two knee replacements, chances are

that titanium or stainless steel built into her is from cartech.
i went into what they called the labor gang, bidding on jobs
in different departments until they finally hired me as

a ladleman in the melt shop. that ladle hung from a huge
overhead crane. i poured into rounded molds in succession.
about 35 tons of molten steel sat waiting. i did cold-rolling
for three years. at the #4 mill next to route 12, i rolled wire.

it grew longer and longer, where a 4-foot block might stretch
into an eventual 40 feet. likely diameters were 1/4”, 1/2”, or
3/4”. next, i moved into the inspections division, examining

for defects. in the end, i handled ultrasonic immersion
testing. bars of the metal or alloys rotated through a tank
of water very slowly, and the transducers read them. sound
waves set off an alarm if holes were found. we didn’t have

alarms going off all of the time, the arguments of machines.

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