Only I alone escaped to tell you—Ishmael—Moby Dick
They’d see they were moving along at sixty minutes an hour
on a mountain road, into a future that was a mirror with no glass,
there was nowhere to pull over, and cars lined up behind them honking
“The Briar Plans a Mountain Vision Center”—Jim Wayne Miller
Outside my window rise stalks of bamboo,
planted by my home’s former owner, clums
brought from the Pacific as a prize of war.
I think of Sago. The mine is long closed.
The story is cliché and typical,
but the memory still soaked in sorrow.
The miners not crushed in the usual roof fall,
but trapped by the ubiquitous blast caused by
unknown factors, starved of air by
ubiquitous methane and carbon monoxide.
We like miners living on the edge
of the good old days, but not too high-tech,
singing of fate. We want times to get better,
but not too fast. We need them to gnaw
the shank of the hog. Corporate HQ
likes trickle down safety, after the coal dust bomb
(see Upper Big Branch South) after the last black lung
victim wheezes his last(see WV hospital records 1913—2013)
We have trudged down this road before. We vote
for good ol’ boys(and gals)–a hearty slap
on the back and request that they tar-and-feather
the EPA and OSHA and chase
that Socialist Nigger out of Our White House.
They stood in the mud and waited for word–
kin and hangers-on and media types.
The country preachers worked their moment,
got folks drunk on desperate GLORY GLORY
HALLELUIAHS. The Nazarene would hear their pleas,
and the saved would float from that dread portal
on the waters of Galilee. But it all came
to a bad phone line, a sad misunderstanding.
It all came to emptiness times twelve dead men,
the stunned hours times the clueless questions
of the talking heads, times the ceaseless
strobe of spectral light, garish orange and blue.
Today, up in the sun, on the granite slab,
the faces of the lost regard the present.
Their images etched by Laser, precise,
though before if I had met them on the street
I would not have known them. Nor the kid
who did not succumb, Randal McCloy Jr.,
whose own slow, maimed voice could tell us little.
Why did the miners go where the sun never shines?
For father and grandfather before them?
For lack of choice? For fear of failure in
the world of light? For food on the table?
Check all the above and pass in your survey.
Some wives they left behind stare at the wall,
waiting the company check. Some, tough as any
miner’s wife, weep their allotted sorrow and find
another man. Daughters go off to nursing school,
sons work the Shale, get hooked on Meth or star
on a college team, lose a leg in Kabul.
Some spell in the county spelling bee
or become the lovely Strawberry Queen.
I think of how the men flickered, praying in
the toxic dark, scrawling their notes, their lamps fading,
self-rescue devices not fit to save a dog.
Waiting for the scattered rescue teams to drive
the winding roads, made late by the hills they
all loved, and besides it was the weekend.
What do I know, bystander, trying to
patch the quilt of our history with words?
I listen to the click of the wind, a green song
through my bamboo, rustling like the skirt of
a swaying, sashaying, laughing woman.
How lonely to be a up here, sucking
my lungs full of the good spring air.
Mark DeFoe teaches in the MFA Writing Program at West Virginia Wesleyan. His latest book is In the Tourist Cave (Finishing Line Press, 2012).
Read an interview with Mark here.