paper mill
by Bruce Louis Dodson

Temp job:
Alton Box Board
paper mill
along the Mississippi River
near Sr. Louis.

Paper spurts from great steel-grey machines that press it
into rolls not unlike toilet paper
but humongous
fifteen-foot diameter
twenty-six wide
spins on glittering steel shaft.

Trimmers each end cut off rough edges
take an inch or so from paper still too hot to touch
after a final pressing to desired thickness
stream of white spaghetti paper shavings
drop into a square hole in the concrete floor.

My job below.
There is a moat
a steel canal of flowing paper mush
like oatmeal—bleached
this hot pulp river
flows through whirling bladed shredders
then around to meet them once again.

When trimming starts above
an endless white snake
slithers through the hole
at high speed
piles up fast.
I have to hustle or get buried in it
grabbing armfuls
dropping them into the pulp canal
the strip adheres to the thick primal soup
gets swept way
into the blades
that leave variety of paper cuts behind
impossible to stay untangled from the mess
too hot and humid for long sleeves
eighty degrees
eighty percent humidity.

Discarded sheets of poster board come down as well
sail crazily
short dance on hot air
all goes in
doing my best to keep reduced
fast growing mountain
hot white paper scrap
then suddenly it stops.

Moment of peace
some fifteen minutes
while they put a new roll on the shaft.
I think to sneak a rest
lay down a couple minutes
on the sheets of cardboard on the floor.
There’s no one here but me
no windows
just bare concrete walls
at 3 a.m . . . inside this night shift hell.

Some wise guy throws a bucket full of dye into the hole
I’m now light blue in color
wide awake
looks like a long night
probably my last here.

PHOTO: Paper-making machine and paper mill workers (Canada, 1920).


Bruce Louis Dodson
is an expat living in Borlänge, Sweden, where he writes fiction and poetry. Some of his most recent work has appeared in Foreign & Far Away: Writers Abroad Anthology,  Sleeping Cat Books: Trip of a Lifetime Anthology, Northern Liberties Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Tic Toc and Storm Cycle Anthologies (Kind of a Hurricane Press), Vine Leaves, Cordite Poetry Review, Buffalo Almanac, mgversion2>datura_84 & 89, and Maintenant 11.  His novel, Lost in Seattle, is available at Visit him at