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poetry Coal

Coal may be a dying industry but, as St. Louis poet Kerry James Evans shows, the living miners go on working for less and less.

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Coal

 

By Kerry James Evans

By now, I know better

than to run my mouth around my cousins

who wake every day in a place

called Pig-Shit Alley,

who descend a mile-deep

shaft for black lung

and a disappearing pension.

We all get taken,

sure, but who takes from a widow?

Who drinks the well’s last

dregs, the backwash,

the swallowed, the spit-back

and forgotten? What help

is there for the woman

who’s lost every man

she’s ever loved to a company

she’s never seen?

Click, click, go the numbers

on the dial. Click, click,

go the executive’s Florsheims

into the never-ending

expanse of industry

spackled over with marble and stained oak—

a boardroom painted canary yellow.

Truth is hard to find,

especially when all you’ve got

is a headlamp and a pick.

But the lights—they do flicker.

They shine like hell

until they finally burn out.

Kerry James Evans is the author of Bangalore (Copper Canyon). He currently lives and works in St. Louis, Missouri. See also  www.kerryjamesevans.com