The Phosphate Plant

Incandescent furnace,
fahrenheit eight
thousand degrees,
an alchemical inferno
transforming base
metals and rocks into
elemental phosphorous,
the philosopher’s stone
fortuitously discovered
by alchemist Hennig
Brand, who, in quest
of a mystical formula
for extracting from
urine gold, found–
not gold–but P4,
a treasure more
valuable than gold,
and for which there
is greater demand:

a requisite ingredient
of penicillin, pesticides
and fertilizer, of tires,
plastics and paint,
of film and fabrics,
china and glass, tv
sets and light bulbs,
mouthwash and
toothpaste, of hand,
face and dish soap,
of matches, detergent,
lipstick, shampoo,
of condoms that
glow in the dark,
in processed foods
ubiquitous: in flour,
sugar and cereal,
in this morning’s
corn flakes and toast,
in jellies, in jams, in
meats and cheese, in
a hotdog or ham and
cheese sandwich, in
ketchup, mustard
and mayo, enhancing
the flavor of cookies,
soda pop and ice cream.

Elemental phosphorous,
indispensably part
of everyday life,
a treasure more valuable,
and far more versatile,
than ancient alchemists
ever dreamt or sought.
Workers shovel in
silica, they scoop in
coke and shale.
Keeping the inferno
eternally blazing
keeps dollars rolling in.
Four towering
ceaselessly excrete
billows of black
phosphoric smoke
which spontaneously
combust into
pillars of luminous
orange-red flame.
As profits soar,
poisonous particles
and toxic gases and
a rotting-fish-like,
noxious stench
explode into the air.
Passing sea gulls
gasp for breath.

Floyd D. Anderson lives in Brockport, New York, and can be reached at Read other articles by Floyd D..