The houses line what used to be a dirt road,
now paved asphalt painted with orderly stripes
of yellow and white. The hill slopes downward
towards crumbling brick buildings, what used to be
a mill humming with labor and life: twin smokestacks
smoldering, giant spools of thread spinning, great
whirring waterwheel churning a river soaked with dye,
and two thousand people aged one decade to six
working in continuous production
of soft flannels and plaids.
The chain of rust-eaten roofs are spotted by missing slats
of wood siding, and untended yards sprawl overgrown
with clover and thistles. All the families packed up
and left half a century ago, after the looms
in the cotton mill churned out their last bolts of cloth.
Jagged, broken doors hang off their hinges, clearly abandoned
by the former occupants who used to keep them swinging.
The windowpanes that do remain are shattered,
jutting shards of glass.
The houses stand near-empty. Long after
their few belongings were bundled onto the tops of half-broken
and rusting pickups, shadowy remnants
of the spindle-cleaners, bobbin-stampers,
warpers, and winders seem to haunt
the crumbling mill into which they poured their lives
more strongly than the ramshackle dwellings they never owned.
Steady breaths of lint and cotton
dust killed slowly; the end
of the mill and eviction quickened the rest.