July 2010

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After all these seasons
I still close my eyes
and walk the ridge
where grasses grow
and blossoms sigh
on summer winds,
and the graves of men
as good as I sing psalms
of all that might have been
from depths piled black
beneath my feet.
I was new and I was young
when these mines
shook the last time,
the earth convulsing
in an autumn night
a mile below the maple leaves
and the town fled
cold with fear to the pithead
- doors flung open, TVs
flickering in the dark -
to gather and wait and stare
at the menacing hole,
and everyone knew in hours
what would take so long to concede.
The newsmen came
and cameras strained and
the radio went on for days
as priests said prayers
and widows wilted in the glare,
and even the draegermen
wept at their impotence.
Only eighteen were saved.
Seventy-five died in that
insatiable methane tomb.
And I who was young and
spared such work am old now
and lined with years,
and I stare in turn
at the plaques that stand
by the miners’ hall and
speak with moss and silence
of all that was left below.
Everyone knew
it was coming of course
- they had always known,
for it had always come,
the fires, the explosions,
the final hideous bump -
but they went down anyway
as generations
had gone before them,
because a man will always
die for his family
and the companies know that
and there are always
more men than coal.
And so they live
in an unquiet way,
frozen in old photographs
and sorrow fresh as snow,
bound without end
to the brumal coal and
the moaning hush of time.
I taste the wind
across my mouth and
ponder the price of flowers.
Who can fathom
the miseries of earth
and the infinite schemes of God,
and how long can ghosts
torment the living
before they consent to die?

© 2010