By the time the button factory
depleted all the fresh water mussel shells
from three rivers and was about to shut down,
the Civil War began. It switched
to ripping up earth and blasting rocks
to mine tin and lead, to manufacture
buttons for uniforms and bullets for death.
Everyone in the factory smiled for years
as they paid bills, got married, bought land.
Their kids graduated high school
instead of working farms or mines.
The owner and managers’ sons
went to Harvard and Yale, became lawyers
and politicians, who voted for more war.
But after the war, the factory closed.
The owner retired, spent months
at his summer home in the woods of Vermont.
Some wage workers got jobs at the new
shoe factory, others stayed home
watching their tomatoes grow
as their wives went to work at the thread mill,
while others just drank and died.
When the owner died, his granddaughters
funded the town library in his name.
Today, the factory dam on the river
still keeps shad and herring from spawning.
And people hike the gully far upstream
marveling at nature’s beauty,
not knowing it was once a rolling hill side
until the button factory tore it apart
and scattered the waste around the town
and in the three rivers where children
sometimes catch a funny colored bass.
Gary Metras is a U.S. Air Force veteran (1966-70), a retired educator, having taught middle school, high school, and college. His poems have appeared in such periodicals as Gray’s Sporting Journal, Hawai’i Pacific Review, Poetry, Poetry East. He is the author of 13 chapbooks and seven books of poems, most recently River Voice II (Adastra Press, 2020). He is a fly fishing enthusiast who wades the streams of western Massachusetts as often as possible.