Me and Andrew Carnegie

By Ann Curran

Me and Andrew Carnegie

always knew each other.
He was the little blue-eyed boy
who built the libraries all over the world
even in grim Limerick.
Maybe he wanted to become
Col. Anderson of Allegheny
who let Andy borrow his books.
More likely, he needed to unload
his dough piled up like a great gray
slag heap in Squirrel Hill
throwing shadows on his plan
to give his fortune away.
He gave us our first Google,
our Wikipedia, our on-line
New York Times—more accurate,
trustworthy but time-consuming.

Later, I learn about the Homestead
Strike and the guys who built his wealth,
the ones who died for 14 cents a day,
his pro-union, anti-union remarks,
his hiding in the heather in Scotland
while Frick sends in strikebreakers
and Pinkerton guards to protect them.

I still finagle an invitation
to Skibo Castle, his comfy home
in the Scottish Highlands.
His daughter moved out
in the 1980s. Couldn’t afford a castle.
Parts of the place housed bishops
nine centuries earlier. Andy spent
two million improving the home.
He wanted a lake. Workers moved
the earth, gave him his lake.
He understood self-sustaining
independence. Grew his own food.
Had his cows and dairy, even
his own tough and treeless golf course.

A red-carpeted stairway spills warmth
into Skibo’s welcoming front hall.
The breakfast room is off to the right.
Eat your porridge, a sign urges.
The dining room seats a couple of dozen.
The bedrooms rank in price
by who slept there. I bed down
in daughter Margaret’s room. The mantel
festooned with Robert Herrick’s
message To the Virgins…
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may…
before Dad gives all the money away.
I sleep in her bed, bathe in her tub,
look out on the fake lake Ospisdale.
I swim in Andy’s glass-enclosed pool
looking at his blue sky, blown away
by his once modern, now bizarre,
showers blasting water in all directions.
I feel like Carnegie himself
at his Heaven on Earth.

And yet, I go out back where
the generator—just like his steel mills
that polluted towns, states and lives—
darkens the castle’s stone walls.
Just as his Edgar Thomson Steel Works
still poisons the air in Braddock.
I scratch Strikebreaker
in the dirt on his castle.
When I leave, the gardeners
don’t uproot the flowers
and pitch them as they did at the end
of each summer when Andy went home.

From the book, Me First by Ann Curran, Lummox Press, 2013.

(Posted 2017 August 12)