The Colliery

The Colliery

while white sun simmers 

ocean’s edge 

we enter the colliery 

follow the guide 

metal basket jostles us down 

down 

smell coal seeping ocean 

light becomes dark then black 

 

thin beams from helmet lamps
graze without illuminating 

faces arms
fire fly flash of teeth tongue
the guide’s words roll out over echoless drips
a silence that stifles our breathing
the chilled walls absorb everything
wooden struts hold the earth from us
coal buffering the echo of our shuffle
as we crouch lower to fit

tiny lamp light glances off rock surfaces
jagged caroms of cold flashes
was that a face an arm
embedded between strata of earth
a zig-zag white trace
slipping in the endless squeeze 

from above below 

the passage narrowing even more
as we scrabble along hunched crabs
feel the ground 

hope for traction 

ache to stand but can’t
air thicker presses on all sides
can these wooden splints 

keep us safe 

 

a pressure in the lungs
the scatter of the fear 

is this the way I want to go
squished in a tremble of tectonic plates
hugged by the earth’s crust

 

we turn a corner catch our breath
the guide filling in gaps
stunned that so many men
spent their lives down here
ate slept shivered exited eventually
to return day after day
did they dare seek comfort 

in one another’s arms 

 

we shiver from black to dark to light
brought to the surface 

to life 

to summer 

where heavy clouds have formed
lightning races the horizon
rumble of thick thunder
blanket of rain falls
to wash us clean of the abyss
we never have to return to

 

This piece goes back to my visit to Cape Breton in 2012. One day we went to the Miner’s Museum in Glace Bay. I took that opportunity to visit a coal mine that was part of the facility. They gave us rubberized ponchos to wear and we waited in the change room for a while. from he high ceiling there were actual miner’s work clothes hanging as they would have when the mine was operational.

 

We wore modern helmets with small lamps on them & that was the main illumination for our tour. The beam was quite forced so, as the piece, says they only illuminated what you looked at. I half expected mine to fall on a face in a dark corner, or on a hand that was reaching out for me.

It was stressful to see the wooden stavings, that held up the ceiling & the walls knowing that that was all that held up the tons of earth over our heads. One clearly got the feeling what it was like down there & it made the sense of camaraderie the miners felt for each other very real.

The tour didn’t include us actually digging for coal though. We did get to sit the lunch area. We did get to steel the air, feel the floor, touch the walls, get dripped on by the sea. It was here that the idea for Coal Dusters was fully formed. Looking at the pictures of the men, some in early teens, who worked down here I wondered about their lives. We know all about their families but there was never a hint that their camaraderie might have been more than just that. 

 

When I have performed this piece people have told me it gave them chills, made them feel that suffocating claustrophobia. For me it was profound & haunting experience I was happy to share.

 

previous Brown Betty posts:

Man With A Past 1 https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3B3

When I Was A Young Boy  https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3By

Home (not of the brave) https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3Cg

Nailed https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3D9

Unmasked https://wp.me/p1RtxU-3EE


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet 

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