Chapter LIV: Birk in the Rubble

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LIV

Birk

in the

Rubble

By the third day the faces were fully ready to be worked. Birk found that he and Clancy were back into their old routine. Joking in the mornings and focused when they started to work. Birk was happy to hear Clancy singing behind him as they got back to the grind of hacking the coal out of the seam. He slipped back into his physical digging and everything that had happened in the past few months vanished as he sweated.

“Com’on by. Time for a slurp of tea.”

“Wha?” Birk pushed himself out of the crevice he was working in.

“Can’t make up for lost time that way Birk.”

“Feels good though to be doing sumthin’ ”

They put their tools in a safe spot, got their lunch cans and scuttled along to a level spot on the floor to sit.

“Where you get to when you take off?” Birk asked expecting the same answer.

“Back to my Ma’s. How many time’s do I haf to tell you? I figured your family have enough to do keepin’ fed without my extra face to feed. Not much to do here with out getting pulled into that spineless union’s foolishness. Ya can’t trust them.” Clancy slurped his tea. “Still smells the same down here.”

“No more ‘an you can trust the owners.”

“That’s for sure. I hear you kept yourself busy in a pretty way.”

“Wha?” Birk nibbled at his bread.

“You and the nun. Steven O’Dowell’s betrothed.” 

Birk could see Clancy smirk in the dim light.

“That lass’s only been trying to teach us how read and write proper. Don’t see as I’m going to do much with that. I could read figures well enough. But now I can sign my name pretty good. But …. ”

“She’s was getting to you, wasn’t she?”

“Yeah, but not is that way.” Birk was eager to have someone to talk to about Lillian. There were things he didn’t he could tell his mother.  “Everyone thought I’m …. sweet on her. Asked me how I felt about her getting hitched to him. As if I would be bothered by that. But t’isn’t so. Sure she’s pretty and that but she makes it hard to breathe when she’s around. It was as if she’s trying cover me up with whatever scent she’s wearing. Always looked at me as if she wanted something more than an answer to what the numbers add up to.”

“She must have had her eye on you.”

“I wish she didn’t. Ma gets so burned up about her being a Catholic girl. She thinks Lillian wants to turn me mick too. I wished I knew what she was after.”

“What most women want Birk m’boy. To land a decent man who’ll look after them.”

“She was living at the O’Dowell’s then anyway so she had him. He’s more the decent man. I’s surprised to see him coming down everyday with us too.”

“Politics. He aims to be premier. He can brag how he knows what common folks have to do to get by. I don’t know what she saw in you, less she needed hairy chimney sweep.” Clancy’s laugh echoed in the shaft.

“Yeh. I’m glad yer back … that … Clancy, I never had a mate I much took too … not even m’brother.”

“Yeah. I missed you too monkey.”

Birk resisted the temptation to reach out and touch Clancy.

Back at the face they were working he was happy to hear Clancy singing the familiar ‘shovel and pick, pick and shovel,’ then, ‘rake and hustle, hustle and rake.’ He stopped mid-word.

“Hush,” Clancy whispered. “Stop for a minute.”

Birk leaned away from the wall. “What is it?”

They stood holding their breaths. A distant rumble could be heard. Then the ceiling over them groaned and a long, thin, flat shard of it shook free and fell with a dusty thud.

Birk pushed Clancy toward the wall. “We better high tail it.”

“Right. That’s what happens when you only have inspectors come to check the air. Not the shoring of the faces.”

They made their way to the main shaft that was crowed with the other men on the shift. They were grousing about how the management had pushed to get things started and how the union didn’t make any difference or even care about the possible unsafe conditions. Another heavier rumble overhead stopped their nattering.

“At’s a big one.” Jake Malone called across from where he was working.

Part of the ceiling collapsed ahead of them.

“Shite.” Clancy swore as he crawled into the now narrowed shaft. “Come b’y before it gets worse.”

There were men scrambling in front and behind them. More than once Birk got a solid kick in the side or face. He was pushed out onto the rough floor. Other men tumbled out after him.

“Clancy!” He called out. He choked on the thick gritty dust. 

The miners pushed him along to the cage that would take them up. There was another even louder crack followed by a rumble and the ceiling behind him came thundering down amidst the shouts of men trapped under it.

“Clancy! Me buddy’s back there.” Birk stopped and pushed his way back to the rubble, fell to his knees and began to pul at the chucks of rock. Some crumbled in his hands.

“Come away lad.” Hands pulled at his shoulder. “There’s nothing we can do for them as got caught.”

It took two of the miner’s to pull Birk to his feet. 

“We all lose someone to the coal one way or t’other.” one of them put an arm around his shoulder and led him away.

“No!” Birk muttered. “I can’t give up.” 

He pushed them away and went to where he had been digging and began to pull the rocks away again. “I know he’s alive. I can feel it. I can’t give up that easy.”

It was the same feeling he had before Clancy showed up at Sal’s burial. Something in his chest told him Clancy was near then and that something told him Clancy was here now. Alive.

One of the miners who had pulled him away came back to him with two shovels and handed one to him. “This’ll make it easier. One things as I know is to never ignore that feeling.”

They were joined by some of the others in shifting the debris. They came to the canvas air flow flaps. There was someone trapped under that. Part of the frame for the ventilator had crumbled to offer some protection to those men.

“There’s men under this.” Birk shouted as his hands tried to get a purchase under the thick edges to peel it back. It was too dark to see exactly who it was though.

Red and two of the men left the bodies they had found and brought them to the less dim area of the shaft by the cage entrance. One of them was dead. The other moaned as he was being moved.

The injured man reached out and grabbed Birk by the wrist. “Monkey is that you?”

“Shush, Clancy. It is. We’ll get out of here soon.”

They laid Clancy on one of the coal trams. In the flicker of his lamp Birk saw a thin ooze of blood around Clancy lips and ears. 

“I can’ feel anything.” Clancy whispered. “Are my … “

“Yes Yes yer legs is there. They look okay.” Birk ran his hands lightly over Clancy’s body feeling for any breaks, no bones were sticking out. “You’re all there.”

“Even my little fella?” Clancy tried to laugh but coughed some blood.

“Pretty sure. Maybe a bit worse for wear after that.” Birk wiped a tear away. 

Red came over. “How’s he doing.”

Birk stood up. “He’s making jokes about his little feller, that’s a good thing.”

Red kneeled beside Clancy.

“You going to be fine son.” He put his ear to Clancy heart. “That’s still beating. How’s it to breathe?”

“Not so easy.” Clancy wheezed and coughed up more blood.

“Suspect you broke a couple of ribs back there. Good thing the manifold fell atop you.” He stood brushing his hands off. He turned to Birk. “Masters wasn’t so lucky.”

“I got the count for you Red.” Ken Langly, one of the miners came over. “Feenie, O’Conner, Slake Jim, French Dan and Dark Sammy unaccounted for. A few cuts but none as is hurt that bad.”

“Something to thank the good Lord for.” Red signed deeply. “Air’s not too bad. Ventilator shafts must still be clear enough.”

The cage shaft echoed with the screech of mental on mental. The harsh sound grated on Birk’s ears.

“They tryin’ to move the cage up and down. She must a got stuck somewhere when the … collapse shifted things.”

Without the cage the miners would have to either wait near where they were, or start to climb up the sides of the shaft. They were more than a mile below the surface and they was the risk some of the handhold stavings had come loose if the shaft was twisted out of shape enough.

“I’m going to start up.” Ken Langly announced. “One of us has to make a try. I’ve done it more than a few times.” He laughed. “You know, to get a breath of fresh air.”

“I’ll go with ye lad.” Red said. “They’ll be wanting to know who’s survived and who’s hurt down here. So far only young Clancy here. Busted a couple of ribs.”

They started up the sides of the shaft. Every so often some debris would come down.

“How you doing?” Birk sat on the floor by the tram where Clancy was lying.

“Only hurts when I talk about it.”

“Go on with ya.” Birk leaned back, his head against Clancy shoulder.

“You know when that slab fell on me all I could think was that I’d never get out to Blue Lake again. You done any fishing out there?”

“Took my sisters out a few times but not same as the last time we was out there. Too far for them to walk anyway. I ended up carrying Sal, the fish and everything else too on the way home.”

“At’s all right and you were learning how to read and write the way a proper Boston boy would.”

“Sure while you was playing nurse maid to yer old mother.”

“She not as fine as that one though.”

“Why you keep harpin’ on about that gal. She’s all yours Clancy if she’ll have you. That is if O’Dowell can’t keep her happy. I told you before I don’t care none for her fine ways. Sure they can grow on you after a time but that doesn’t mean I want to … spend anymore time with her than I have to.”

“Gives me something to think on besides us dying down here.” Clancy said.

A mass of rocky debris and some lumber fell through the shaft and down to the bottom of it.

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Chapter Liii – Lillian Has Something To Prove

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Coal Dusters – Chapter Liii

Lillian

Has Something

To Prove

Lillian was working in the herb patch in the O’Dowell’s back garden when Aileen called to her from the back porch.

“A gentleman to see you Miss Lillian.”

Lillian stood and brushed the dirt off her hands onto her apron. “Gentleman.”

“Father Patrick, ma’am.”

Aileen held the door open for her as she continued to wipe her hands clean.

“He’s in the small study.”

Lillian had been in the small study once. It was a room off the front foyer that Steven’s father had used to store his hunting equipment which Steven had converted into an office when he ran in the election.

When she went into the room her uncle was standing with his back to her facing the desk. There were two armchairs in front of it and a bookcase on one wall. There was only one small window near the ceiling, more to allow ventilation in the room than light. The room smelled of cigar and pipe smoke.

“Father Patrick?” she said.

He turned. “Lillian how good to see you looking so well.” He sat in one of the arm chairs. She sat in the other. “I have been in Boston.”

“Ah. Steven was wondering why you hadn’t shown up during his campaign.”

“Sometimes politics and religion don’t need to mix. He did well enough with any show of support from me.”

“Yes.” She wondered what he wanted.

“I also understand you and he are to be wed.”

“Yes.”

“You know I can’t allow that. That union will not happen in any Catholic church in this parish or any other I can contact.”

“Perhaps you should take that up with the Bishop. He’s already agreed to perform the ceremony.”

“That will be changed. Have you told Mr O’Dowell about James Dunham? I’m sure …”

“He has, in fact, met James Dunham in Halifax.”

“And that didn’t dissuade him?”

“Not in the least,” Lillian wanted to laugh.

There was a knock at the door.

“Yes?” Lillian said.

The door opened. Aileen entered with a tea tray.

“Miss Clara said you may want the tea served.” She put the tea service on the desk.

“Thank Miss Clara for me.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Clara stepped into the room. “I didn’t want to barge in on what could be private conversation.”

“For the moment it is.” Father Patrick said. “If you don’t mind.” He stood and attempted to show her out of the room.

“If we are discussing the wedding I feel I should in included in the conversation.” Clara said.

“My uncle feels it’s an unwise decision on my part.” Lillian said. 

“Not exactly unwise, my dear.” Her uncle said. “I think it’s a very calculated decision on your apart. Devious. Eve would have been in awe. I have no objection to Miss O’Dowell hearing our conversation. Do you?”

“If it entails sordid rumours you have about Lillian past rest assured I have heard them.”

“They are not mere rumours, are they Lillian.”

“Don’t bother answering him Lillian. I am aware of Mr. James Dunham and of his ungentlemanly conduct with Miss McTavish. In fact I have met with him myself and spoke to him directly. I know the full story.”

“Apparently you are not as concerned about your family’s reputation as her family was about theirs.”

“This is not Boston Father Patrick.”

“Quite true. Quite true. But Mr. James Dunham is not what brings me here today. I will repeat what I told Lillian. This wedding will not take place.”

“You can’t stop it.” Clara said.

“One cannot marry the dead!”

He took a newspaper clipping out of his jacket pocket and handed it to Lillian.

She read it. It took her a few moments to comprehend its full import.

“Well, what does it say?” Clara asked.

“There was a memorial service in Boston for me last week. I died here some months ago of influenza.” she handed the clipping to Clara.

“The service was presided over by her grieving uncle, Father Patrick McTavish. What is the meaning of this Patrick?”

“I think it is pretty clear.”

“But I am alive. People know that.”

“The death certificate says otherwise. Signed by me.” He took a piece of paper out his inside pocket and haded it to Clara. “You have no proof of who you are, my dear. None at all.”

“Proof!” Clara exclaimed. “This has been signs only by you. There’s no doctor’s signature.”

He snatched it back from Clara. “A mere formality.  Also you can’t get married without proof  of identity in the Catholic Church. Lillian, do you have your baptismal record? Your confirmation certificate? You don’t even have a family to say you are you. The memorial was very emotional. You mother wept. A Mr. Henderson was heart broken.”

“David Henderson?” Clara said glancing at Lillian.

“He went to Europe when I was fifteen and he was not a beau, merely a boy I knew.” Lillian wanted to jump up and strike her uncle. “Why are you doing this?” she asked as calmly as she could.

“You must reap what you sow my child.” He said gently. “Her father said she was a willful, spiteful, conniving child and she had grown up to be even more so. Do you think I would let you ruin yet another family to satisfy your need for depraved comfort. When I was forced to drive this … this …. harlot from my home I was stunned to see her be taken into your bosom Miss O’Dowell. I feared she would be an asp. A snake in the grass.”

Lillian stood slowly. “Have you had your say uncle? Have you done your worse?”

“Lillian I mean no harm. Forgive me.”

“Forgiveness is not mine to give.” She looked him in the eyes. “If this is the consequence of my not bending to your depraved carnal desires then I am willing to suffer this consequence for keeping my honour intact.”

She opened the door to leave the study. “If you’ll excuse me Clara I have something in my room that may help clarify things. If they don’t satisfy the Church.”

“No one will have you.” her uncle said. “No one.”

“Father Patrick.” Clara stopped Lillian. “You have said more than enough. You have perhaps revealed more about yourself than you have about Lillian.”

“How can you remain so … indifferent to this hussy’s actions.”

“Whatever her actions may have been, and I assure you, I know she is no innocent babe, she has not displayed such an evil devious mind as you have. To revenge yourself is this way leaves me speechless.”

Lillian dashed up to her room and found the photo album and news paper clippings. She brought them down and presented them to Clara.

“This marriage will happen.” Clara said sternly. “Her family will be informed of your callous actions.”

“You think they banished her here on a whim?”

“They banished me because their reputation was more important to them than their child. Oh! It was all right for my brothers to get caught up in gambling, drunken galavanting behaviour.” Lillian found herself shouting.

“But let their precious daughter show a bit of spirit and out she goes. When they thought I had lost any value as a marriage pawn to enhance their precious social standing they disposed of me as if I were … a … a tea service that had gone out of fashion.”

She turned to Clara. “If I am a calculating harlot looking for the best possible marriage then I learned it from them. It runs in the family apparently. Doesn’t uncle?” She wanted to slap the stunned look on his face. “Falsifying my death to suit your ends is no better. Runs in the family.”

She pushed Clara aside nearly knocking over Aileen who had been hovering near the door listening. She stood in the foyer resisting the temptation to run up to her room, slam the door and throw herself on her bed to cry. That’s what the woman in books did. Cry till some man came up the stairs to make things better for them.

“Aileen.” she said.

“Yes Miss?”

“If anyone wants me, I’ll be out in the garden. Those climbing roses need to be cut back.”

On her way through the kitchen she grabbed the gardening sheers and headed directly to the climbing roses. She’d been intending to remove the dead branches for weeks now and she attacked them with a vengeance.

She lost track of time as her anger dissipated. Why was every path she took caught in these unforeseen and unforeseeable brambles. David Henderson turning out to be unsuitable because of a Jewish grandmother, Mr. Dunham a trifler, Birk Nelson so fearful of displeasing his mother and now this. If only she could cut these brambles as cleanly away from her path as the ones from the climbing bush.

With each clip she thought to herself ‘what can I do.’ ‘what can I do next.’ 

“Lillian!”

There was a hand on her shoulder. It was Clara.

“Lillian, I have been calling you for a few minutes.”

Lillian stood and wiped the sweat off her brow. “I couldn’t hear you over these.” She snipped at the air in front of her with the sheers.

“Then perhaps we’ll get them oiled properly so they won’t be so noisy in the future.” Clara smiled. “You uncle is certainly a man of actions and opinions.”

“Another of the McTavish bad traits.”

“Do you love my brother?”

“Love? I don’t know. If you mean that flood of blinding adoration, then, no, I don’t.” If that put the final touch on the end of this path she was ready to face it.

“That’s what I was hoping to hear. I’ve seen how you’ve dealt with him this past month. You know I wasn’t happy of this match but Steve would brook no argument with me. I didn’t want to distract him from his ambitions and I figured you would fall by the wayside.”

“Sorry to disappoint you.”

“Oh I wasn’t disappointed. He was willing to listen to you on matters of appearance and even of how to present himself to the public that he would never had heeded from me. If anyone won the seat it was you being by his side making sure he said the right things at the right time. Someone who was flooded with adoration couldn’t have been so … objective.”

“Thank you, Clara. This is the last thing I expected to hear you say.”

“Perhaps you’ve wondered why I never married?”

“Yes, but you did have your father to look after.”

“We had money and could have afforded to hire help but my father, much as yours did, I suspect, wanted to keep a protective eye on me. I never had the opportunity to meet a James Dunham. A few men courted me but none ever found the approval of my father. Those that did were ones he deemed suitable because of their social status, their financial potential and for no other reason.”

“I had never thought we might have that in common.”

‘But you have more determination than I ever had.”

“So does Father Pat.”

“It’s not you he’s striking at but your family. He told me about your father’s reaction to the death certificate. He may not have known it but your father’s grief brought the good Father great …  I want to say pleasure but that’s not it at all. It gave him an opportunity to castigate your father for being such a Godless parent. For being indulgent and permissive.”

“Permissive!”

“Oh yes, allowing you opportunities to enjoy life that he himself had not had. Your family’s wealth and social position become more important to them than their faith and as a result you were their downfall and punishment.”

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Chapter Lii – Birk Back Underground

Coal Dusters: Book 1 is now available as as PDF – this covers the first 35 chapters – 65540 words – send $1.99 to  paypal.me/TOpoet

Coal Dusters – Chapter Lii

Birk

Back

Underground

Birk woke with a start. Clancy was at the foot of the bed, shaking the frame gently until he woke.

“You know strike’s over b’y.” 

Birk pushed himself up, not sure if he was dreaming. “Wha?”

“We gets to go back today. Election’s over too. Winning don’t change a thing.” Clancy tossed his rucksack on the dresser.

“I knows that.” Birk sat up and put his legs over the side of the bed.

“You sleepin’ as if there’s nothing to do.”

“I’m sleeping the way someone who don’t have to share his bed with someone who tosses like a … a shirt on the line on a windy day.”

“And smells as fresh.”

“Yeh, freshly fished out of a net.” Birk tossed his pillow at Clancy. “So you’re back?”

“Had to check up on my mother before going back to the colliery here. Nothing better to do.”

“I was getting use to having all this bed to myself.” He pulled his work pants on and pushed his feet into his work boots. “Been a while since I wore these. Kinda stiff.”

He stood facing Clancy. He’d forgotten how blue Clancy’s eyes were. He grinned not know what else to do or say. He thought of grappling with Clancy, wrestle him to the floor but reached out and mussed his hair instead.

“Time’s a-wasting!” A shout came from the bottom of the stair.

“Yer Ma hasn’t changed.”

“Good things never do.” Birk laughed.

 

No management was to be seen when the miners gathered for their first day in the mine. Father Patrick was there to to bless their efforts so that the town could be rebuilt in the light of God.

The first days in the pits where spent making sure the shafts and stavings were sound enough for the mine to be worked. After the endless weeks of inaction it was good to be back at the work but at the same they would only get paid for the coal they produced. There was no pay for replacing, reinforcing the hoardings, for doing all the maintenance work that had gone undone during the strike. The scabs that the company had trucked in lacked the skills to do more than sweep and shovel so they only worked the first tunnels.

“You’d think they’ve cleaned out the carts at least.” Red grunted as they went down for their first maintenance shift.

“Least they ventilated the shafts. Inspector went through ‘em already to make sure.”

“They don’t want to kill us that fast. At least not before we reopen.”

No one was happy about the way the strike had been settled. Everything forced on them by the management, the government, who didn’t appear to care about the miners but only about their taxes and dividends. The newly elected provincial government couldn’t undo what the Feds had done despite their promise to do so.

Birk was too focused on getting things ready to be bothered talking much with Clancy beyond quick grunts of agreement as they did their tasks. When he got back at night after their shift he was too tired to talk. Sometimes they both fell asleep during dinner. But he could sense Clancy’s restlessness.

Even as he tried to keep his distance in the bed, their shoulders or hands would brush briefly in the night. Clancy had something on his mind but Birk couldn’t get him to talk about more than the mines.

“What did you make of what the men of the cloth had to say before they let us go down today.” Birk asked Clancy as they walked home after their shift.

“They mean well but that Father Pat always acts as if he’s judging us and not happy with what he sees. Father Browne acts as if he knows how hard it is to be as good as we aim to be.”

“Too bad he didn’t give us all that other prayer.  Mac was always fond of one that went  ‘Each dawn as I rise, Lord, to face a pit filled with hell. To scratch out a living as best that I can. But deep in m’ heart is the soul of a man. My black covered face and calloused hands, rides the dark tunnels.’ When I was small Mac’d sing that and then chase with his hands stretched trying to tickle us boys.”

“I can see that now.” Clancy laughed. “My Dad was never around much to play with us. When he was it more shouting as us to keep quiet and sit still.”

“The dark tunnels used to scare me some. I’d have nightmares about them and the black faces trying to eat my soul.”

“That I can understand. Can’t imagine even a mick’d be thankful to be made a miner though.” Clancy said.

“Least ways they came to bless us without making the micks stand on the side the rest of us on t’other.”

 

Birk and Clancy joined the miners who were massed in the work yard around the opening to the colliery.

“What’s going on?” Clancy asked.

“Steve O’Dowell is here to wish us well on our first paid day back to work.” someone said.

“That explains the reporters from the Post and the Herald.” someone else said.

“Can’t say as I’d hold that against him,” Red Mac said. “He’ll do a good job getting us back a decent contract. Armstrong wanted us to settle for nothing.”

“Where’s  O’Dowell? We want get down there before lunch break.” someone said.

“Up in the office with James Bowden. Waiting on final word from the inspectors it’s safe to go down.” Someone else said. “Otherwise Bowden would send us down.”

Scotty Sullivan, the assistant manager, came out of the management building. Red Mac, the shift foreman, walked over to him.

“Much longer?” Red asked.

“Nah, you can start down now if you want. Inspectors say all but bottom level’s been okay’d.”

“You know we can’t start until all have been given the okay.” Red said.

“We won’t send any shifts down to that level.” Sullivan replied.

“You know we can’t do that?’ Red said firmly.

“I’ll let the press know that on the first day the mine’s were opened that the union was refused to go back to work after signing the contract. Suits me fine.”

“You bastard.” someone shouted. “So it starts already!”

There was grumbling amongst the miners.

“If you fellas have done as good job down there as you claim to have done on the other levels what are you afraid of. BritCan didn’t ask for a rush job half-assed done by you qualified miners.”

“You were told it would take either more men or more time.” Red said.

“Not my problem. Today is when we are to open and either we open, or your union face the consequences.” Sullivan walked over to the the boxes upended to make a low stage. He stepped up, “If any of you men are unsure about the safety of the mine after you’ve been the ones to do the repairs you are free to leave. There are those who are eager and willing to do an honest work for reasonable pay.”

Birk turned to Clancy. “What do you think?”

“I think we’re ready to work. They push us around now to prove they are still in control.”

Steven O’Dowell and Gus Murphy came out of the office with James Bowden, Father Patrick and Reverend Browne and walked through the men. Steven was wearing miner’s coveralls, carrying a pick and one of the helmets. He could have passed for one of them except for the white shirt and tie he had on under the coveralls.

He stepped up on the overturned boxes. The miners cheered and applauded.

“Men. Friends. I call you friends because I am one of you and will be even more so after this day.” There was more cheers and applause. “I’ll be going down into the mine to work with you. Something my predecessor never did.”

“When’s the date?” someone called out.

“Date?” Steven asked. “Oh! My wedding. Funny you should ask that as we set the date this morning before I came here. It’ll be two weeks from today at St. Teresa’s in Sydney. She’s over to O’Dowell’s in Sydney this morning to pick out a wedding dress. You are all invited to come.”

The men stomped and whistled.

“Now before we go down Father Patrick and Reverend Browne are here to offer blessings. Father Patrick.”

Steven stepped off the box and Father Patrick stepped on it.

“Parishioners, men, it is with great happiness that I see you finally getting back to your calling. I’ll offer two short prayers. First the Ave Maria. 

Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus
fructus ventris tui, Iesus
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae
Amen.”

Several of the miners joined in while others of the Catholics mumbled along as best they could.

“The other is one that, with a small change of my own, suits all men. “O My God, I adore Thee and I love Thee with all my heart. I thank Thee for having created me, for having made me a miner and for having watch over me this day. Pardon me for the evil I have may done; and if I have done any good, deign to accept it. Watch over me while I take my rest and deliver me from danger. May Thy grace be always with me. Amen.’ God bless and God speed you all.”

The men applauded politely.

“Now for the rest of you Father Browne will offer some words.”

Father Browne stepped on the box. “Those of you who know me know I’m a plain spoken man. My father was one you and died in the mines. I’ve seen trials and tribulations and I’ve seen brave miners rise to them and to help each other as best as they. I’ll use no fancy words,” he glanced at Father Patrick, “but I’ll offer one I heard often from my father.

“Look at these hands, Lord, worn and rough. A face scarred with coal marks, and my language is tough. But you know in the heart, Lord, is the soul of a man that toils at a living few men can stand. Sulphur, coal dust and sweat on my brow. If you’ve got a corner after my work is through, I’d be mighty proud to live, neighbours with you.”

Most of the miners joined him from the first line. They stomped and roared as he finished. He stepped off the box.

“Who’s ready to go to work.” Steven pulled on his helmet, hefted the pick-ax over his shoulder and hopped off the box. He went into the crowd shaking hands with the miners. “I may have to borrow a lunch form one of ya. Got so rushed to be here I forgot to pack a lunch pail.”

A couple of the miners lifted him up on to their shoulders and lead the way to cars that would take them to the cages down. He went down with the first group of miners.

Birk and Clancy went down the with second group.

They got off at their level. Red was waiting as their shift crew got off.

“Where’s our fair haired boy go to?” One of them asked.

“Down to next level. Said he wanted to see how they did a blast. Virgil’s as good a blaster as any we’ve got. He’ll make sure O’Dowell gets a good show.”

“There’ll be campaign speeches out of this for his next run, sure.” Someone said before they headed down to the various staging areas where they were working. “Least Father Browne knows the work the way that Papist bastard ever will.”

“Least he speaks English.” Another of them laughed.

“I’m surprised that priest don’t crawl down to scatter holy water on the seams for luck.”

“Nah we’ll do that with our own holy water.” one of the miners joked.

“Don’t be pissing down on me ‘cause if you do he’ll down to give you the last rights.” Another said.

“Be careful boys or you’ll slipping someone’s shit before you know it.”

“Won’t be yours. We know that stink anywhere.”

The miners laughed.

“Everything look good?” Birk asked letting his lantern play over the joists.

“Given the time we had, things looking great.” Red said. “Try to pace yourselves some though. We’re not going to make up for all that money lost in the first day.”

Birk and Clancy made their way to the face they were assigned to work.

“You think O’Dowell’s going use that pick much?” Clancy asked.

“Only on his teeth.”

“That is if they’re his own.”

“Best hope there’s no gas down there, they’ll never smell it over that perfume he’s wearing.”

“Didn’t smell half bad to me. Better than most of stench when we’re down here. Wonder if she picked it for him?”

“Nah, that’s what he stunk of before she ever showed up. You could always tell when O’Dowell had been anywhere.” Birk laughed.

They came to where they were going to be working. The first severals blows with the pick numbed Birk’s hands then he stopped feeling anything expect the way the point connected with the coal. When he stopped to catch his breath he could hear Clancy raking behind him and singing.

“This is the way we pay

This is the way we pay

for the right to die this way”

After an hour or so Birk stopped to wipe sweat off his face.

“Feels good.” He said to Clancy.

“Whatever you say boss.” Clancy replied.

“Forgot how it smelled down here though.” Something scurried over his boot. “The rats must be happy to have us back again.”

“Useless buggers probably gnawing away at the joists. Do more damage than the water.”

Birk pulled his rag back over his mouth and went back to clawing at the coal.

“Hush.” Clancy plucked his pant leg.

Birk stopped and they listened. There was low brief rumble beneath them.

“O’Dowell getting his little tap o’blast.” Birk said. “I can tell the size by what we hears. Didn’t get much out of that one.”

“It’ll give him something to tell the missus when he gets home!”

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Chapter LI – Lillian Picks a Tie

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Coal Dusters – Chapter LI

Lillian

Picks

a Tie

“You see if you can talk some sense into him!” Clara said. “He sure isn’t going to listen to me.”

“Clara, I’ve been talking to these men all my life. I know what they want to hear and how they expect a man to look.” Steven stood in front of the mirror and adjusted his bright yellow silk tie. “This tie will make sure they look at me.”

Clara rolled her eyes. Lillian laughed. 

“Steven,” Lillian said, “That tie would be perfect if you were in line for secretary of the local union.”

He turned to her with a slightly hurt look on his face. “You disapprove?”

In the weeks since he had proposed Lillian had enjoyed bringing some of her Boston social experience to use as Steven campaigned in the district. Under her gaze he had toned down some of his appearance. He was starting to look successful and confident in his decisions as opposed to a brash young man dressing flashily to sell his opinions.

“Not entirely.” she reached out and undid his tie and slipped it from around his neck. “But this would be more suitable for signalling a train to stop than directing people to vote for you.”

“Gus McLelland said …”

“I don’t care what Gus McLelland said, Steven.” Gus was his campaign manager. “Trust me it isn’t the men who vote for you. I’ve told you that before. Sure, you can sell yourself to the men with a brassy tie, but it’s the wives you want to appeal to.”

“Most of them don’t vote, even though they can.” Steven complained. “They aren’t the ones in the front seats whenever I speak.”

“That’s because they are in the back talking about what you wear.” She went to his dresser and took out a couple of ties, a dark blue one and a brown one. “That yellow is fine for barroom stumping but if the wives see you as another drunk they’ll make sure their men don’t vote for you.” She held each of the ties against the lapels of his suit jacket. “Here put this one on.”

Frowning he slid the blue one under his collar and began to tie it. “If it’ll make you happy.”

“Here let me.” Lillian smiled as she recalled doing this for her bothers when they had an important function to go to. She leaned into Steven to smell him. One of the things she had found so difficult to abide when she first met him was the overpowering scent he wore. 

“You are wearing the scent I suggested.” she patted his shoulder. “It suits you.”

“Just a little on my moustache.” He smiled as he smoothed the moustache out and twirled the ends lightly.

That was the one thing he had refused to alter, so far. She had gotten him to lessen the amount of pomade he used so that his hair looked less patent leather. It would take a fair bit more work before he was truly presentable but once they were married she would be able to give him more polish. It would take more a lot more polish if he was to become Premiere but she was sure she could to it.

“I’m happy that you are coming with me tonight dearest.” He said to her as he looked at himself in the mirror. “No matter how good you make me look I always look better with you by my side.”

“Steven, you’ve become quite a charmer.” Clara said from where she had been sitting. “Lillian has worked more than a miracle with you.”

Lillian blushed. Getting Steven to propose hadn’t been too difficult but winning Clara fully over to her side had proved to be a challenge because of her assisting Dr. Drummond after the unsuccessful power plant take over. The letters of commendation from both the union and the Colonel Strickland helped repair that dissension between them.

Lillian decided to concentrate on Steven and not to worry about Clara. His run for the election was the perfect opportunity to see how much potential Steven actually had. 

“You have your notes ready?” she asked him.

“Right here in my pocket.” He tapped one of his suit jacket pockets. “But I don’t plan to use them unless I have to.”

“Put your charm to use when to speak to them.” Lillian said. “They are more important to you than flattering me.”

One of the things Lillian quickly discovered about Steven was that he was an accomplished orator. He could speak at the drop of a hat and frequently say exactly what the people wanted to hear. Even when he practiced a speech for her there was little for her to polish.

“Just remember, no matter how many of your cronies are present, no racy jokes.”

“But it always helps to start by getting them to laugh.” Steven said.

“How many times do I have to tell you it’s the wives who’ll get them to vote. What gets you drinks in a barroom isn’t going to get you votes at the polling station.”

“I know. I know.”

“You can save those for after the rally when the wives aren’t there.”

Invariably after every one of his campaign rallies he would disappear with Gus and several of the men while she and Clara would make their way back to the house. She knew that giving him his way now on some matters would make it easier for her to be even more demanding once they were married.

The door bell rang. A few moments later Aileen called up the stairs.

“It’s Mr. McLelland with the car for you.”

When the car pulled up by the arena to let him out Lillian told herself that for the first time she was where she deserved to be. There was a cheer from the men outside as they got out of the car. There were photographers from the Sydney and Halifax papers. She and Steven stopped to have their pictures taken as they chatted with miners, their wives and children.

Inside they had some time before the rally was to officially begin so she went to the table where the refreshments were served and allowed her picture to be taken pouring cups of tea. The stresses of the past few months vanished. Even if she didn’t feel love for Steven she had love for this life that was opening up to her.

“Time to go, Lillian.” Clara came over to her beaming. “It’s nearly seven.”

She and Lillian walked quickly over to the change room under the bleachers and when the nearby church bells rang seven o’clock, Steven stepped into the arena quickly followed by Gus and then she and Clara stepped out. It had been decided that until they were married it was best that Lillian not appear as these rallies on his arm but always with Clara. The applause was deafening.

Men were tossing their hats in the air, stomping on the floor, standing on their chairs.

They mounted the low stage. The crowd stood and continued to applaud till Lillian and Clara sat down. 

Gus introduced Steven to more cheers and Steven took the microphone. He silenced the crowd and gave a variation on the speech she had heard him give several times. He always hit ‘standing the gaff’ as hard as he could.  The actual words of the BritCan management’s taunt had given him all the fuel he needed for his campaign’s platform. 

As he mentioned Montreal, Toronto, London she could see herself in those cities attending similar events with her husband as his political star rose and rose.

He let them know how their resistance demonstrated clearly to all levels of government and BritCan that Cape Bretonners weren’t going to take being bullied. Once again he repeated his promise not to marry till the mines were open. This had been her suggestion, at first because he had pressed her for a date and she wasn’t ready to rush into it, then because she knew it would allow the public to see that he was willing to sacrifice his plans for theirs, that he considered their personal concerns of greater importance than his own. 

“In conclusion when you go to the polls Monday you know know to vote for. And if you forget I know your wives will make sure you do the right thing by then and your families. Let’s end the BritCan strangle hold on the mines and shrive the gaff where the sun don’t shine.”

The arena erupted in cheering and stomping so strong dust floated down from the ceiling.

As expected, once the rally was over, Steven had to, as he put it, take council with his campaign committee.

On their way to the car a reporter stopped her and Clara.

“Miss McTavish might I have a few words with you.”

“Yes,” she glanced to Clara.

“Not too many David,” Clara clearly know the Post reporter.

“Miss McTavish, you are of the Boston’s McTavish’s?” he asked.

“Yes, I am.” Lillian was unsure of what to tell the reporter. Facts about who she was wouldn’t be too difficult to ascertain.

“What is it about Cape Breton that brought you here?”

“I can’t answer that but what has kept me here has been the spirit of the people. Always welcoming and accepting of an outsider such as myself. Even during the difficult times of this strike they have been resolute and strong in their convictions.

“One of the few … positive things, for me, about it has been the opportunity to meet and help all families, regardless of faith, education or social standing. I’ll never regret helping the children of Castleton’s Mudside with their ABC’s. I deeply regret the damage that BritCan has allowed this strike to … inflict on these families.”

Applause from the people gathered around caught Lillian off guard.

“Thank you Miss McTavish.” the reporter said. “I’d be reluctant to oppose you if you should ever chose to run for office.”

“Have no fear of that. I know a woman’s place is in the home not in politics.”

In the car Clara patted Lillian on the hand. “That was very well said my dear. You share Steven’s ability to charm without over-stating your case. Your family would be proud of you. Very proud.”

When the results of the election were announced Tuesday came as no surprise that the party had won nearly every seat they had candidates for. What was unexpected was that the labour party failed to make a showing. 

“Fat lot of good labour has done the miners these past few years.” Steven explained. “All BritCan has to do is accuse them of being Reds. New premiere will be here tomorrow and we’ll face off against BritCan at last.”

“So soon?” Lillian said.

“We can’t give them time to think. We have to show them that we are firm and prepared to take the hardline to get these miner’s back to full pay. If they had their way we’d be waiting for a few months till they asked to negotiate. No, we’re telling them to get to the table now whether they want to or not.”

“And if they decline.”

“We’ll deal with that eventuality should it arise. But they’ve already indicated a willingness to negotiate. Besides everyone knows what the ultimate reward will be.”

“A raise in pay?”

“No! A wedding date for us. I can’t tell you the number of people who have been clambering for that. The sooner coal comes out of the ground the sooner we can seal our vows.” He smiled.

“Very well. As long as I have enough warning to get a suitable dress.”

“No worries there, O’Dowell’s in Sydney has an excellent selection. At a good price too. Don’t worry about invitations, Clara has already ordered the blanks from our supplier in Montreal. They will be printed here.”

“Doesn’t leave much for me to do. You best not have ordered a cake too!”

“No! Clara said was going to be your department. Too bad we can’t break tradition and have a wedding pie.”

“Now who would want to put pie under their pillow?”

“True. Whatever you decide upon, remember we want a piece saved for our daughter when she weds.”

“What!”

“An O’Dowell tradition I suppose. One I won’t break. Clara has a piece of our mother’s wedding cake. Or is it our grandmother’s?”

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Sneak Peek – May 2019

April recap:

April unexpectedly proved to a rather retrospective month for me. In looking for the print-out of the Armstrong family tree I came across a pile of poems written way back in the late 60’s, early 70’s. I though – Easter = resurrection. I culled some out and did a very light edit as I input them. By light I mean dispensing with punctuation, start of line capitals, made spelling & typo corrections.

My fan base continues expanded slowly but surely. WordPress is up to 316, Twitter sits at 217, & Tumblr is at 224. Coal Dusters continues to grow as I get nearer the end with 96,500 words posted so far, about 37,000 words to go. The clash between the striking miners & the militia has been great fun to expand. I’ll be doing more research when I visit Cape Breton in August that’ll make the final draft even better.

The other April highlight was finally getting new glasses. It’s been several years since I’ve had my eyes checked it was about time. My vision has improved with age ( much like my sex life). This time there was no resistance to visible bifocals – I tried the non-visible but the bi-area was too small for me. I like a larger bi, for some reason. Opted for real colour for the arms – something I’ve never done before. They are a strong yellow. 

Not much coming up in May though 😦 Going to Stratford Festival to see Henry VIII – a play I’ve never seen before. I’ve also booked a tour of the Festival costume department that morning. After the costume sale last year I wanted to see more of the warehouse. Tours have to be booked in advance & are limited to 30 people. Lots of photos should result 🙂

One thing I’m not looking forward to this month is missing Capturing Fire on May31/June1. Though if lotto max coughs up before then I’ll book an emergency get away 🙂

Aim 

it doesn’t matter where I aim

I come back to earth

my arc cannot lift me 

far enough way 

to escape the greedy clutch of gravity

my aim is set beyond

the horizon

beyond belief

around the silent corners

that wait for all

no not even wait

waiting involves expectation 

of something arriving

they have no expectations

the earth is mere witness

no not even that involved

the earth doesn’t see

doesn’t feel

it remains constantly present 

regardless of what goes on around 

above

beneath its surface

no emotional investment 

in anything

anyone 

 

how sweet to be a rock

a stone 

a boulder

being what one is regardless 

of what goes on around you

even the pulverizing machine

creates no fear

no perception

safe in stoney silence

blind self-contained

even when in a pile of other stones

absorbing the same heat

or frozen 

in the same icy rain

not struggling next to one another 

for warmth 

no complaining of being too close 

 

the arc of the tossed rock

as it sings though the air

can’t throw it high enough 

hard enough 

fast enough

for it to escape the law of gravity

it falls to the earth

as we all fall to the earth

our bones may break

our expectations 

higher than a stone can be aimed

when they return unfulfilled

we aren’t crushed

but continue to practice

how to survive rough landings


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writing blocks broken at Loyalist

Caught Hard 1971 /76

In going through a box of papers I came a cross a pile of old old poems written in late 60’s, early 70’s. So having no shame I’m resurrecting them with minimal editing. I was using a cheaper, yellow copy for many of these – the paper hasn’t yellowed with age. Enjoy 🙂 This is the last resurrected poem for this Easter.

Caught Hard 1971 

1

dull dark day dawns

disparately clinging to the night clouds

little mists of mares

floating up from the budding honeysuckle

 

I am fighting so hard

for an empty room

for this trophy of glass

it can’t last

it mustn’t last

this fighting alone

on the dew wet grass

so close to home

by the freshly born

morning in some other

question box corner standing

sunrise boxing ring

 

so you’ve come to see the fight

by being here

you are the fight

another shadow boxing affair

reflecting from my bottles

reflecting on my walls

fighting for every word you speak

 

I am dying softly

the everyday death we each die

wandering from payday to payday

paying enough for the right

to live when I die

 

paying to keep fighting

in only the perfect surroundings

soundings & singers

paying & dying & fighting

fighting off the laughter

that I feel exploding

each inner pondering like a sledge hammer

smashing each unhappy stone

 

restoring sensation of pleasure

white in the night

feeling close & coming to an end

 

caught hard up in the air

without a handful go much

just loose strings of stings

& other nasty things

to keep me from giving in

to consuming everything in one last bite

2

I’ve heard the hangman many times today

if I’m not a icicle

why do I feel so cold

swinging in the summer sun

swinging to the hangman’s hot jest

 

he’s trying hard to melt me down

so I can be sold in bits & pieces

3

many times

screaming inside my skull

he cannot bear to see me moving

to any other taunt but his

up the stairs

up the stairs

no one cares

just the hangman

filling his pockets with meltings

 

I am free to fall

I am free to get up

I am free

but feel so lost

 

if I am not a fossil

why do I feel so old

if I am not a fetus

why do I feel so unborn

 

tiny & afraid

waiting in the summer sun

for someone to touch

 

if I am not wise

why do I feel so foolish

in these words

I am found by so few

yet still lost to so many

I am the end of time

drizzled with smiling sunlight

in some early morning suddenness

 

if I am not dynamite

why do I feel like exploding

every time I think of you

 

the sun can’t seem to melt into the middle

yet I feel myself slipping away

up the stairs

up the stairs

away from the sun

that needs me melted

before we can start winter again

4

the hangman has seen me crying

the hangman has been free dying

to reach out to cut my rope and end

this dangling all day in the sun

 

no confession

no confessor for me

I cannot make sense of either

though both are bursting to

functions all around

me like falling rain

as I near the end of the rope

 

postitive negative postitive negative

polarized into neither

loving nor hating 

wanting nor having

afraid of saying

so many confessional hidden sins

that everyone realizes about me

but care too much to punish me for

This is one of few pieces that went from the above rough draft to a more ‘polished’ version that was included in my book Distant Music. All those ‘d’s at the start are a bit much 🙂 I do love the overt masculinity of the piece as I box to prove my maleness as a poet. Poetry being considered un-masculine despite the fact that the poetry we studied in high school was 99% written by men.

I was buttoning it up to somehow contain my sexuality as well. Queers don’t talk about boxing but movie stars. ‘reflecting from my bottles’ a clear reference to my growing alcoholism – another of the way I was dealing with sexuality – drown it.

A gay acquaintance at the time hung himself which may have lead to the hangman imagery. Working to pay the rent was like a noose too, the strangle hold of fear.

The version that made it into print is equally as meandering but is also more focused. The alliteration remains 🙂 The revised version does have a sense of ending though. Today there is no rope, or bottle, needed to to keep me standing.

Caught Hard 1976 

1

dull dark day 

disparately dawns

clinging coldly

to the night clouds

little mists of mares

floating doggedly

over murky dreams

 

I am fighting hard

fighting so hard

for an empty room

a glass trophy

it can’t last

it mustn’t last

this fighting alone

on the dew-wet grass

so close to home

with the freshly born

morning sunrise

 

just by being here

to see the fight

you become the fight

another shadow-boxing affair

reflected from bottles

reflecting cross walls

fighting for every word you speak

 

I am dying

that everyday death 

we each die

 

fighting in only 

the best of surroundings

soundings & singers

all dying in fighting

fighting off the laughter

I feel exploding

each inner pondering 

like a sledge hammer

smashing each happy stone

 

returning sensations 

of pleasure

white in the night

feeling close 

while coming to an end

 

caught hard 

up in the air

without a sandful of much

just loose strings of stings

of other satisfied things

to keep me from giving in

to consuming everything 

in one final bite

2

I’ve heard the hangman 

many times today

if I’m not a icicle

why do I feel so cold

a-sway in the summer sun

swinging peacefully

to the hangman’s hot breath

 

he’s trying to melt me down

so I can be sold in 

bits & pieces

3

many times

screaming inside

he cannot bear 

to have me sway

to any breath

but his

up the stairs

up the stairs

no one cares

except for the hangman

filling pockets 

with meltings

 

I am free to fall

I am free to get up

I am free

but feel so lost

 

if I am not a fossil

why do I feel so old

if I am not reincarnated

why do I feel so unborn

 

tiny & afraid

waiting in the summer sun

for someone to touch

 

if I am not wise

why do I feel so foolish

out of these words

am I the end of time

drizzled with smiling sun

in your early morning suddenness

 

if I am not dynamite

why do I feel like fighting

every time I think of you

 

the sun cannot melt 

through to the middle

yet I feel myself slipping away

up the stairs

up the stairs

away from the sun

that needs me melted

so we can start winter

4

the hangman has seen me crying

the hangman has been free dying

to reach out & cut the rope 

to end my all-day dangling

 

if I am not a hanged man

why do my feet

never seem to touch the ground

 

if there is no rope

around my neck

what holds me in place

keeping me from falling down


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Chapter L – Lillian Nurses The Wounded

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Coal Dusters – Chapter L

Lillian

Nurses

The Wounded

In the evening Lillian returned to the O’Dowell’s after making sure her uncle was comfortable at the manse. Although he was grateful for her attentions earlier he made it clear that was a matter of circumstance. His distrust of her remained as firm as it had been. 

The O’Dowell’s living room was crowded with union men, a couple of the more outspoken miners and Alf Landon their local Member of the Legislative Assembly. She stood at the door as unobtrusively as she could.

“They have to go back to work.” One of them was saying. “After this violence they have no other choice.”

“But the union didn’t hire those goons from the mainland!” another man said. 

“Yes, but you know how this will read. That the unreasonable miner’s instigated the military …”

“Yeah. The fat, over-fed louts in uniform with guns were forced to defend themselves from the miners who haven’t a decent meal in months.” 

“You tell ‘em Neddy. It was those Godless Catholic whipped into a righteous frenzy in d’church who came charging out with candles to set fire to those poor soldiers who happened to ridin’ their horses along the street by the church to enjoy the Sunday sun.”

“Don’t forget them outside agitators.” one of the miners said. “Wantin’ to eat is now a Bolshie plot.”

“It’s never any one’s fault but ours for wanting a decent wage.”

“Your points are well taken.” Alf stood. “But I have news for you that none of you are going to be happy to hear.”

“What? Coal Company is pulling out of the fields here!”

“Our prayers have been answered.”

“No, boys, no. Worse. There’ll be a bill proposed in Ottawa first thing tomorrow that’s to force you back to work.”

“Proposed.” Steven said. “More like pushed though, then shoved down our gullets.”

Lillian backed away as the men exploded in profanity. 

She went up to her room. She was happy to shut the door at last to the noise, to the day. She slipped off her pretty blue shoes. They weren’t so blue anymore. They were covered with dust, mud, horse dung and what she suspected was dried blood. With a damp cloth she wiped them off. Most of the grime came off easily but the leather had deep scratches she knew would never be removed. Another layer of her old life in Boston had been removed. There was knock at her door.

“Lillian?”

“Come in Clara. I was washing the dust of the day off.”

Clara came in followed by Aileen with a tea tray.

“I thought you might enjoy a cup of tea before you turned in.” Clara nodded for Aileen to put the tray on the vanity. “That will be all Aileen.”

“Yes, Miss Clara.”

Once Aileen had left Clara poured them both a cup of tea.

“My mother would sometimes do this with me. Come to my room with tea and biscuits.”

Clara picked up one of Lillian’s damaged shoes. “these have seen better days. Did you go dancing in them?”

“No. They were too plain for the ball room.” Lillian sipped her tea. It was weak. Her uncle preferred it as strong as she did. The O’Dowell’s always served weak, watery tea with hardly any color.

“You still missing that life?”

“Some of it.” Lillian sighed deeply.

“When I was your age I had a whole life ahead of me but then when our mother died in the Spanish flu I had to take over running the house. Looking after father was no easy task. I used to resent my mother so much. It was as if she had died to get out of all that work. I was grateful she’d only had us three children.”

“Three?”

“We had a younger brother Charles who also died during the Spanish flu.”

Once again Lillian saw how little she knew of life outside her own troubles.

“I do know what it is to lose control of your life.” Clara settled back on the armchair between the bed and the window. “Steven has asked my permission to propose to you.”

“What!” Lillian hoped she sounded surprised.

“My dear girl don’t play coy with me. I know you didn’t come here with that in mind but you must be aware of Steven’s interest in you.”

“From the outset but …”

“Yes. He was foolish and forward but has come to accept you aren’t a girl to be trifled with. He has come to see you as a woman who would be an asset to his life.”

“Asset? How romantic.”

“Now, Lillian we aren’t mining families making brats but adults building lives. Would you consider such a marriage?”

Lillian sipped her tea. “Yes. He would be an asset to my life.”

The two women laughed.

“I’m happy that you approve of me. You do realize though he asked asked me already?”

“Oh!” Clara put her cup and saucer down. “I am not surprised. He was never one to waste time.”

“Rest easy, Clara, we haven’t set a date if that’s what you are thinking. We will wait until after the election. There’ll be enough to deal with the campaign.”

“Of course. Pending marriage makes a perfect plank in his platform. Vote me in and I’ll invite you all to the wedding of the century.” She laughed. “You’re family will be thrilled to have you off their hands. They’ll be coming to the wedding?”

“No invitations until we’ve set a date.” 

“Very sensible.”

“Nothing until after the election.” Lillian said. “I don’t want my engagement announcement to turn into a campaign speech.”

“My dear you already understand Steven.”

 

The next afternoon Lillian was preparing the pans for baking the bread when there was a pounding at the front. Aileen went to answer.

“Miss, miss, you must come quick.” A boy pushed past Aileen. It was one of boys often used to run messages.

“What is it?” She asked as the boy caught his breath.

“Men is hurt.” He blurted out. “Dr. Drummond says for you to come quickly.”

“Where?” She pulled her shawl over her shoulders. 

She followed him to front door. Clara was on the porch talking with Dr. Drummond and two other men. 

“Has something happened to Steven?” she asked

“No.” Dr. Drummond said. “There’s been more foolishness with the miners and the company security.”

“Machine guns aren’t foolishness.” One of the men said.

“I’m on my way to deal with the wounded.” Drummond said. “I need to round up some volunteers to help. The hospital is refusing them because they are company militia. ”

“After Mount Carmel, I’m not surprised.” Clara asked.

“Yes ma’am.”

“Then let the company look after them.” Clara said.

“That’s what … I can’t ignore them. I’ve had some of taken to my clinic but it’s more than I can cope with on my own.”

“What can I do?” Lillian took him by the arm. “Clara does it matter. If it was one of ours that was injured would you …”

“They aren’t one of ours though. Perhaps you aren’t either, Lillian.” Clara said.

“Let’s go Dr. Drummond. I’ll help as best as I can.”

In the car Lillian wondered if she was doing the right thing. Defying Clara wasn’t going to make her marriage to Steven any easier. It wasn’t part of her plan to play Florence Nightingale, but then again neither was this life in Cape Breton. For once she was grateful to be an outsider with no family loyalties to the Islanders. 

As they drove one of the men ranted about what he called the workers revolt. The miner’s had attacked the power plant in a misguided effort to end the strike.

When they pulled into Dr. Drummond’s yard there was a truck with two of the wounded men on stretchers on the back of it. The blood around was already wet with blood.

“Have you been here long?” Drummond asked.

“No sir. About five minutes.” A man tending to the wounded said.

“Bring them …”

“I don’t think it’s good to move them any more that necessary.” The man said.

“Get my bag Lillian. You know where I keep it.”

“Yes. Come with me.” She said to the men who had been with Dr. Drummond. She walked quickly inot the house. “Here.” she grabbed the bag and gave it to one of them. “Take this to the doctor.”

“You,” she said to the other. “Bring some water into the kitchen. There’s a pump by the back door. We’ll have to have lots of hot water.”

Lillian lost track of time as she sterilized instruments, tore old bedding into bandages. One of the men on the truck died. The other was resting on the sofa in the doctor’s sitting room. Another truck arrived with more injured men. Some had severe head injures, others had been shot.

She held the hand of one while Drummond removed a bullet from his biceps. She closed her eyes and looked away as the doctor sewed the wound closed. 

“Lillian!” A man called out to her. 

“Steven!” She looked up.

“I don’t know what to say.” Steven reached out to push her hair away from her eyes. “You are a much braver woman than I would have expected.”

“You’re not angry with me.” She felt the patient’s hand relax its grip on hers. She looked to Dr. Drummond.

“The worse it over for him.” The doctor said. “He’ll recover.”

She started step down from the truck when Steven swept her into his arms and set her feet on the ground. For once his bay rum was a comforting smell.

“When Clara told me you were here I couldn’t believe it. I am …”

“You aren’t angry with me. Siding with the … the … I don’t know whose side this is. These could be miner’s for all I know.”

“Some of them were, Miss McTavish.” one of men said.

“Angry?” Steven tilted her face up to his. “No. More convinced than ever that marrying you will be one of the best things I’ll ever do.”

“Lillian,” Dr. Drummond dipped his hands inot a tub of fresh water. “You should consider becoming a nurse. I’ve rarely seen someone so natural and … shall I say … calm under such extreme circumstances.”

“Trust me, she’ll have her hands full tending me, Dr. Drummond.” Steven said.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

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Kent State – The View From Here 1970

In going through a box of papers I came a cross a pile of old old poems written in late 60’s, early 70’s. So having no shame I’m resurrecting them with minimal editing. I was using a cheaper, yellow copy for many of these – the paper hasn’t yellowed with age. Enjoy 🙂

Kent State – The View From Here 1970

I never knew them

but still I cried

I never will know them

now that they have died

 

but even if I could have

I doubt if I would have

for with apathy it’s easier to sigh

than get up & try

which is what they did

no longer content to be hid

by things yet to be said

now they are four dead

 

they never knew me

but still I cried

they never will know

now that they’ve died

hopeless dwarf desperation

overcomes giant hesitation

as I feel it’s my time

to move to the front line

to replace those that fall

or can’t relate to the call

then I wonder if I’ll see the end

alone or with a friend

 

I never knew them

but still I cried

I never will know them

now that they have died

now that they have died

‘Four dead in Ohio’ another Neil Young inspiration while he was part of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The shooting in May 1970 stunned me & my friends. Many were musicians & angry protest songs were part of their repertoire. I was more flower-child than rabble-rouser. The found the hippy movement too heterocentric & unwashed for my sensibility. 

This is one of the few, perhaps the only, pieces I wrote then that reflected life outside my own muddling through life. There were student protests everywhere it seemed while I was started in my Cape Breton Ghost Town reading about it in Rolling Stone or seeing it on TV. What music filtered to the east coast was about as counterculture I got. Let’s face it even the  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were millionaires.

At the time I felt a sense of loss though. Loss & futility because the shooting made it clear the entrenched would always be with us & always in control. I see it today around the world. People calling kids who survived a mass school shooting ‘cry babies’ for wanting gun control. 


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Sunshine Corners 1971

In going through a box of papers I came a cross a pile of old old poems written in late 60’s, early 70’s. So having no shame I’m resurrecting them with minimal editing. I was using a cheaper, yellow copy for many of these – the paper hasn’t yellowed with age. Enjoy 🙂

Sunshine Corners 1971

summer day small & dangling

little blue suns from the bigger ray

falling adream in the middle of the day

with pieces of pie & cups of tea

long time cashed in by ups & me

cashed in for a boat ride

sold for a smile or a simile 

to sail away to

hidden treasure island innuendos

fastly teasing eyes & ears

 

hiding hiding

in sunshine corners

early days early days

late night mourners

streets of cars

eyes of ice

making the turn

signalling for a full stop

talking word after word

catching the bus

falling in a heap

like leaves on retreat

 

red night falling from behind

unaware of the feelings in the place

beneath the ground around all

I have to offer is a million marvels

a circus to some

an escape to others

a relief to be inside

the other side of the seesaw 

the scale that will never tip

 

in the air

in the air

in the air

the snow filled air

the thousand

never ending 

ever melting

fleeting flakes of snow

finding brief rest in sudden death

patterns in paper ribbons

or

sparkles

in dark hair

on moonlight August hills

in little corners of restaurants

where we ate the fun of it

drank the hell of it

finally left the rest of it

floating

in the air

in the air

in the air

 

it’s the moon in mystical mood

shining angular

on the fields of harvest stubble

on weather grey houses

on shadows as the crow

flies off for home 

or orchard 

or lingers to scream you awake too soon in the morning

you were saving for this moment

only to have it mocked by a black jester

who has never spoken to her sister

who shines for hours all day

while the moon bides her time

hidden in a cloud’s back pocket

 

there was a sun

bright & shining

now there is the blind man

feeling the sun on his face

feeling the water tugging his knees

deep in the other way of missing

building up

higher screaming hammering

all at once

empty

in silence each note unechoed

each temptation resisted

dry laughter

little sounds within

the big sound

daring 

repercussions of daring 

to be alone

doing this

for the first time

wondering if the 

telephone is too out of time

to use

 

falsely afraid

for the beams

cannot burn

cannot shatter

afraid that they might

security afraid

but hoping to be let down

 

somebody claims to have found him

in my writing

in my searching

but for 

some reason he

he does not seem to be

what I am searching for

he I have found but feel there is 

something besides all this besides

some velvet guillotine to stop the 

interloping tangents from regressing into

solenoid spheres & exaggerated 

laughing fits of yesteryears

falling 

jagged like music

in clumps of smooth & rough

harmony & discord 

 

breaking forth

after expending so 

many days of violent 

turbulent struggle

into a soft hello

or a tender glance

or even the merest thought of 

becoming unwithdrawn

to the point

where helloes & glances

take no energy at all

 

so tell the darkness

that this sound can be heard

even while the warmth comes

as waves & veils over & down

head to toe

reflected in a window

neglected in a cellar

full of madness

desperate afraid angry

lonely

yet aware of loving

every minute of it

 

there is only the flight of the gull

to cut across the face of the sunset

there are only my tears

to wash down my face at sunrise

 

still feeling the tingling

of the right notes up my back

as the engines shift into hyperdrive

while I wait for the

passengers to climb aboard this

rocket to the sun

Let’s get this influence up front: ’I dreamed I saw the silver space ships flying/ In the yellow haze of the sun.’ There’s no denying the influence on early me by the early lps of Neil Young. ‘Ghost Town’ is clearly a variation of ‘Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.’ ‘After The Gold  Rush’ was the same with all that longing & fragility.

There are many reference to my daily life here as well. Drinking tea, eating pie with friends in my comfy basement room, drinking in restaurants, waking up hungover & feeling like harvest stubble. The emotional build up to finally say hello, or in my case, never saying it. I love & cringe at the same time, at some of the melodrama ‘there are only my tears/to wash down my face at sunrise.’

I have two versions of this piece. One handwritten with drawings & the other typewritten. I don’t know which came first but there are slight differences between the two. This one is the typed version – line breaks & all. 

 


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Try to Shine 1971

In going through a box of papers I came a cross a pile of old old poems written in late 60’s, early 70’s. So having no shame I’m resurrecting them with minimal editing. I was using a cheaper, yellow copy for many of these – the paper hasn’t yellowed with age. Enjoy 🙂

Try to Shine 1971

father of lights

father of lights

we try to shine as lights in the world

but what good can we do

with your every greater light

outshining us as every dawn

must we wait till your dusk

before we can shine at all

& if we wait what will we do

as it gets nearer the dawn

nearer the dawn

 

the fever shook the country

sometime in December I think

or seem to recall

things were pretty hectic

my back against the wall

the fever took quite a few

I felt it too

it ripped up & down my spine

tore my life to pieces

but for some reason

didn’t take me with the rest

I’m still here

keeping the record of the dead

of the fever followers

who will never return

perhaps the next fever will be mine

 

spring comes in promises

silver nuggets here & there

in first forest clover

but well

it seems so distant anyway

xmas & all

a few little glances

a smile & a call

never getting further than before

never getting nearer than the dawn

 

words of warning or warming

written for a few you’s

who stayed till dawn

nearer than before

in other summer days

we’ve lied & tried

& yet no dawn comes

to reflect the snow snuggled ground

 

it seems so strange at times

to be relating to a voice as a mouth

on the other end of the telephone

rather than the whole of you

it seems so strange at times

to be relating to thoughts as eyes

at the receiving end of a letter

rather than the whole of you

 

it’s not the empty morning that I’m afraid of

I can sleep

or read fortunes with oil on water

swirling sticks & liquorice

I’m afraid of loving

only to find trick of time

did remove me

into some other ticking type of clock

that chimes in disharmony

though perhaps there is another way

for me to wind up

 

I was hoping to meet

in the street by chance

meet you & free myself

of the longing to remember who you were

when I met you last

meet you & free myself 

of longing to meet you once again

in the street

only in the street

for in the street we both have room to escape

& no need to really be there

for longer than a smile & light

& maybe plan for some later meeting

which if happens will

make us even further apart than ever

 

nights after nights

& days after days of words

wandering on & on

not looking really

just wandering

fitting a few & losing a few

wandering closer & further from

hoping & despairing 

the eventuality of time

when I will have to stop

& say which is which

for both can only exist if I intend to

wander on & on forever alone

forever alone

 

father of lights

tell me a fantasy

tell me a meaning

let’s plan a meeting someday soon

each time it becomes harder to find

reasons why

but easier to find ways how

soon perhaps

it can happen

with no reasons at all

 

another start

where the same endings

never seem in sight

Bob Dylan’s New Morning ended with the song Father of Night. In the song he repeated ‘Father of   ….’ with variations of what the father was father of. The religious reference was toyed with ins ouch way that it lead me to write this piece. Direct religious references in my writing are rare but there are subtle ones that pop up frequently.

There’s a bit of story in this piece. ‘the fever’ refers  to the decisions of ‘you’s’ friends of mine to get out of the ghost town & move on with education, employment & even relationships. I felt stranded in Sydney writing letters & making long-distant calls – which reduced us to voices & eyes. 

One of closest string friends was un university & sometimes visited his parents or his girlfriend unexpectedly but didn’t always get in touch with me when he did. It drove me crazy. Such is closeted life.


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