“Henry Ford (1904),” by Campbell McGrath

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poetry by Campbell McGrath


From curiosity comes dynamism, from obstinacy drive.

From the drawing board, from tinkering, from the machine shop in the old barn come pistons and cams.

From gasoline comes internal combustion, comes a world of rubber wheels instead of horseshoes, a world powered not by steam or wind but oil refracted into a rainbow of mechanical possibility, smoke and stink of it filling the little house on Bagley Avenue.

From the gunworks of Samuel Colt, from the precision of clockmakers come interchangeable parts.

From the Arsenal of the Doge’s Venice comes standardized production.

From the butchery of hogs hung for slaughter, from Chicago packing houses comes the conveyor belt, comes the assembly line, comes the dismemberment of human toil.

From the builders of every monumental construct back to the Great Pyramid of Cheops comes the mobilization of labor,


comes mass production,

comes the pace of the century and its mode of transport and its consumerist destiny,

comes Highland Park, Hamtramck, River Rouge,

comes the river of ash and coke, river of bitumen, river of liquid capital, river of molten vanadium steel,

comes the thunder of the blast furnace,

comes the glory of industry,

comes the abjection and abandonment of industry,

comes the world’s first billionaire, the titan, the crank,

but not yet, all things in due course,

but not yet.


For now it is a cold afternoon in January,

and Henry Ford has just established a new world speed record

driving a first-of-its-kind Model B roadster at 91 mph

along a four-mile track on the soot-covered ice of Lake Saint Clair,

and afterwards he celebrates with a complimentary muskrat dinner

for himself and his entourage at the Chesterfield Hotel—

the Dodge Brothers are there, drinking heavily,

James Couzens, Harold Wills, the ace mechanic Spider Huff—


and for this moment he is not worried about magneto coils or engine blocks,

about investors or salesmen or the burgeoning competition,

about the Jews and their secret cabals or the goddamn unions ruining the country,


for now he sees only the sugar-fine granules of frozen dust

driven across the ice in snake-thin runnels,

their fluid aerodynamics,


the kinetic grace of the invisible force

that scours and propels them

in a model of ruthless simplicity—


Henry Ford is staring out the window,

lost in thought,

stealing everything he can from the wind.



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This excerpt is featured content from the

Fall 2013 issue

For ordering information or to find out more about the contents of this issue, click here.

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