Coal Dusters – Chapter VIII

Chapter VIII

Birk and Clancy Get Acquainted

Knowing that Clancy wouldn’t be sharing his room till the end of the week didn’t make working with him any easier for Birk. Clancy had already paid for a week in advance at Mrs. Franklin’s boarding house and she wasn’t going to refund any part of that if he left before the week was over.

When their shift started Birk would grunt hello and that was it. He didn’t care to know anything more about Clancy. As long he wasn’t underfoot, didn’t gripe about things and worked hard in the pit that was enough, barely enough to make him tolerable. 

Clancy had an irritating habit of humming as they worked. Sometimes muttering something under his breath or scraps of songs that Birk had never heard before. 

“Shovel and pick … pick and shovel … ” 

Things that didn’t make much sense to Birk even when he could make out what the words were. But as long as Clancy kept to himself, did his share of the work, he didn’t care. 

Clancy approached him during their lunch break on the third day of their working together. “We can’t go on this way Birk.”

“Says who?” Birk picked up his lunch pail moved to another part of the stretch they were working on. 

“If I’d known it was your house … ” Clancy followed him a few steps.

“Once you did, you coulda changed yer damn mind.”

“I can’t afford to stay at Mrs. Franklin’s on what we earn down here. I need to send something back to my Ma in Stellarton.”

“Why didn’t you stay there and work the mines?”

“Same story there as here.”

“Not my worry to deal with. I gotta deal with you.”

“Can’t be as hard as me having to deal with you.” Clancy went back to where he had been crouched for his lunch.

At the end of shift the cage was jammed already only one of the could fit on and Clancy shrugged as the cage went up leaving Birk below. When Birk got to the surface he took off his work coveralls and dashed to the wash up room to his usual spot. Clancy had taken it.

“Gotta be faster than that Birk. Yer gettin’ slow b’y.” Clancy chuckled as he continue to wash his underarms.

Birk pushed him aside. “Make way ya tuilli. You knows this is my spot now.”

“Careful.” the miner washing up next to Clancy said as Clancy stumbled into him.

Birk reached for the basin to toss out the dirty water and get fresh. Clancy upended the bowl so it splashed Birk.

“You …” Birk swung at Clancy. His fist caught Clancy on the jaw.  Clancy staggered back but quickly regained his footing. His longer reach let him swing back before Birk could react. His punch knocked Birk into a group of miners coming into the washroom.

“That’s it.” Birk took his fighting stance with fists raised, feet firmly planted on the wet stone floor. Clancy did the same.

“Bad enough I get stuck with you here.” He jabbed Clancy in the stomach. “But I’m not puttin’ up with ya any damn longer. I’ll send you back to the mainland to lick yer wounds. That’ll give you plenty worth singin’ about.”

Clancy jabbed Birk in the ribs. Both protected their faces as best they could. The other miners made a circle around them and if one fighter got too close to them they pushed him back into the centre of their ring.

“Isn’t m’ fault Red Mac didn’t think you were good lookin’ enough work above ground.”

“I didn’t want that soft arse job.”

They clinched and fell to the ground, wrestling and jabbing as best as they could. Blood dripped from the noses of both of them when someone hauled them away from each other and back to their feet.

“Enough of this.” It was Red Mac. “If yer want to beat the piss out of each other don’t do in here. We got men who deserve to be clean enough to go home to families that want them home.”

The miners held Birk and Clancy back from each other.

“Oh, it’s you Birk.” Red Mac said.  “Can’t say as I’m surprised. You two want to keep workin’ here?”

They both nodded yes.

“Then don’t let me catch you brawling during my shift on company time or on company grounds agin. You understand.”

Clancy nodded yes. Birk glared at Red Mac.

“Birk Nelson yer a good worker but yer always a disagreeable orange cuss too.”

There was some grumbling from the other miners.

“Okay! I knows there are more’n one orange men here.”

“So does we,” one of them shouted back. “That’s why we’re still buried underground and you fat arse micks get all the breaks.”

“You call this getting the break.” Red Mac said. “A good Catholic such as me having to deal with a bunch of … heathens … I mean you lot of ground hogs. Can I help it if I had the …. brains to get where I am?”
 

“You sayin we do don’t have as much brains as you?” another of the miners called out.

“All I’m saying is get cleaned up and out of here if you expect another shift tomorrow.” He went back to his office.

“Look! The Red Pope says its okay for us to wash up.” One of the miners joked. “The sacred waters better do their job.”

Birk filled his basin and washed off the blood, the mud from the floor and the coal dust from below as best as he could. His left hand throbbed. He had hit Clancy harder than he intended. He hoped he hadn’t done himself an actual injury. If he had Clancy would regret being the cause of that, too. How was he going to share his home with that tuilli.

As usual Jake was waiting for him at the gate.

“I dunno how I’m goin’ ta do it. Have that blowhard living with me. I’d rather move m’self before I share more than work space with him.”

“Ah lad, you gotta let go of it. Hard enough for us to get by as ‘tis. He can’t be that bad.”

“He is.”

“Things ‘re getting worse. We may not even be here long enough anyhow.”

“What?”

“They may cut some of the nights shifts. That’s why there’s strike talk agin.” Jake coughed harshly and sent a thick black gob of spit onto the road.

“Careful there, some ‘un will trip over that.”

“Yah.” Jake laughed hoarsely. “Least they aren’t charging me for the dust I sneak out in m’lungs.”

“What’s that ‘bout a strike?”

“Gregory was talking with some of us while you was … washin’ up. Says to us that they want not only to do away with night shifts but aim to cut back on the tonnage rate.”

“They can’t.” Birk punched at the air with his sore hand.

“They can if we let ’em. We gotta send them a message that we won’t put up with all this hurting of us workers who put food on the table for them but don’t get enough pay to put food on the tables for themselves.”

“Damn rights.”

“There’ll me a meetin’ tomorrow night at St. Agatha’s Hall.”

“They ain’t gonna let us orange in there, you know.”

“Sure they will. We got our union cards.”

“Yeh, but some of us don’t have our foreskins.”

Jake began to laugh again and had to stop to catch his breath. “Lad you are gonna be the death of me before the mine’ll do me in.”

Birk went around to the back of his house. His mother and Maddy were on their knees in the garden. The same as many of the miners they had a garden patch that spilled into the field behind their house. Each year his mother would grow vegetables – carrots, potatoes, tomatoes – with seeds or eyes saved from previous crops.

“Goin’ get much out of the patch this year?”

“There’ll be some.” His mother glanced up.

He went over and kissed her on the forehead. He pulled Maddy up and held her in the air at eye level to himself.

She giggled and wriggled. “Puts me down.”

“You been to school today?”

“Of course.”

One of the things Birk wished he had been able to do was continue in school. But when he got to twelve all he wanted to do what his dad did, what his brother did, what grandfather did – be a man who worked in the mines. In the mine he didn’t have to use his thinking much, only pay attention to what was happening right then. No need spell or add numbers up. Not that he couldn’t read or do enough arithmetic to make sure his pay packet was right. He knew enough keep track of what went on in the mines.

He’d seen some of the men reading from books, or from newspapers. He tried, but all those letters and words confounded him. He could follow word by word given time. He only trusted what a man said. You can tell if he was lying by his voice. Words on the page had no voice to judge them by.

He went to the well and got water to clean his socks and face rag. 

“I’m goin’ to check m’ traps, Ma. Might have a little something to add to supper tonight.”

He took several deep breathes as he walked along the grassy field. The smell of the mine stayed with him. Somedays he couldn’t shake it. He plucked a long blade of grass and chewed on it then spat it out. 

The rabbit traps had been pretty much in the same bushy area, beyond the three apple threes, where his great granddad had first set them. The apple trees were in bloom. He pulled a branch down to smell the flowers but all he could smell was the mine.

He stretched his arms up as high as they could go. It was only out in these fields that he could stand up fully. Even in the house he was pressed down by the ceiling. He’d find himself ducking under the door frames even though they were well over the top of his head.

During the run of a week the traps would be good for two or three rabbits. There was two this day. One pretty pump too, he hoped it wasn’t about to have little ones. It wasn’t.

He skinned and cleaned them there and was happy to hand them to his mother when he came into the kitchen. 

“Good. Good.” she said. “What you do with the skins?” She took the rabbits and quickly chopped and deboned them.

“Usual place on the back fence.” 

She would salt the skins and store them. Once a year around Christmas she’d trade them in at one of the furriers in Sydney. The money wasn’t much but would add something special to the Christmas dinner.

He poured some hot water from the kettle into a basin, rolled up his sleeves and washed the rabbit blood off his hands. 

“You’d think Blackie’d built us a little boiler for hot water around here.” He said.

She dropped the meat into a pot of water already simmering on the stove.

“Why we always have rabbit.” Maddy leaned against him as he sat the the kitchen table. 

“That’s what fits the traps. That and skunks. You want a stink for supper some time.” he tickled her.

“You stink enough for me.” she laughed and pulled away.

“You bring that bedding down tomorrow so as I can get it washed up before Clancy comes to share the room wid yer.” his mother said. 

“Don’t go countin’ on that. Might be lays-offs or worse, a strike.”

“I’ve heard. We‘ll know better when you Da gets home.”
“He’s usually back before me.” The smell of the cooking food made Birk hungry.

“He went to see Jim Spot who lost a hand a few weeks past. Union’s going see if they can get him something somewhere. He can always push a broom, ya know.”

“Not as if we don’t have enough one-handed broom pushers now.”

“What the union can’t do the lodge often does. Lest the company don’t own the lodge, yet. There’s Blackie.” 

Maddy ran out to meet him at the back gate. He handed her his lunch pail and they came into the kitchen. He hung his cloth cap on a peg by the door.

“Hear ya had a donny brook at wash up.” 

“He had it comin.” Birk knew this tone of Blackie’s meant he wasn’t pleased or amused. “Why? Clancy come cryin’ to you?”

“No. Red Mac’s gettin fed up with your carrying on. You worse than school kids. You know how he feels about us orange. After all, it was him, when he got that job, who started to replace all the good orange men with his own mick pals. Getting so bad you’d think it was Father McTavish that was running things and not the union or even the company.”

“Sorry Blackie. I wasn’t think about any of that. You know how I act I get riled up.”

“That’s no excuse.” His mother said.

“I’m goin’ rest in the parlour for a spell Ma.” Blackie unhitched his suspenders and shambled away. “Stuff to consider.”

When supper was served Birk went in and woke him. 

“I’ll take something up for Sal.” Blackie said. He came down a little while later. “She’s gettin worse?”

“Yes.” his mother answered. “The reverend’s wife was by this afternoon to look in on her. She’ll be back tomorrow with a remedy she think will help.”

“We don’t need charity from anyone, you know.”

“It’s not charity to let Sal get worse.”

They ate in silence.

After supper Birk went to check his traps to make sure he had left them set properly. There was a dell where he could sit on a low branch of an oak tree. He’d been going to it since he was so small he needed help to get to the branch. Now he could pull himself up on it and let his feet dangle in the air. He let his heavy work boots fall off.

He rested his back on the tree trunk and stared up at the sky. He couldn’t smell the mine or the coal.  

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

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

DC Dreaming 2018

Three weeks today to June 8 when Capturing Fire ignites its 8th slam happy weekend with the launch of the landmark anthology Stoked Words. The anthology captures work by the many brilliant poets who have slammed, participated or wore fabulous shirts. Yes, I’m in the anthology. What pieces? You’ll have to wait to find out. Being a US publication it might end up in the Library of Congress!

The launch, workshops & slam are all taking place at The Woolly Mammoth Theatre on D St. NW. Getting there will take me through parts of Washington I have have never seen so there’ll be lots of new photo ops, new exotic Starbucks to discover (as if Starbucks is exotic). Schedule of workshops posted here: https://capfireslam.org/2018-schedule/.

I’m staying at the same hotel, which is steps away from DuPont Circle metro. Google maps tells me its a 45 min walk to the Wooly, which I think is doable, depending on the humidex. I’ve checked for coffee shops & restaurants near the theatre so I’m prepared. If I get lost I’ll have someplace to eat.

A couple of day excursions have been planed. One day will be the zoo. Trying to line up a local guide so I can get some photos of me that aren’t washroom selfies 🙂 The zoo looks to be fun & also within walking distance. Another day I’ll take in the Air & Space museum. Two tourist destinations are all I can enjoy before it feels like duty.

Six Feet Under

a moment of silence

to respect

those who have been silenced

to offer a dignity

a solemnity

all that’s missing

is the hashtag

a #moment of #silence

showing support

without doing #anything

 

by silenced

I don’t mean marginalized

I don’t mean neutralized

I mean murdered

by others

by their own hand

by neglect

by #silent shame

 

where is the moment of retaliation

oh no we can’t do that

that sinks us down to their level

getting even isn’t justice 

it doesn’t get good press

#victimization

gets all the good press

a moment of violence 

of striking back is tut tut not adult

 

we must have silence 

so the healing can begin

why not a moment of vanity

in which we all pull out a mirror

to contemplate our own faces

to see where we fit in

while the screaming is still going on

to figure out why

forgiveness is more fulfilling

that taking the victimizers to task

where was their forgiveness

 

so I don’t forgive

that’s my flaw

I’m called out for being bitter

not understanding enough

unwilling to make a social context

that rationalizes actions

that spring from a troubled childhood

from a drug addled brain

from books of words holy pages

that approves

making victims of others

in the name of righteousness

 

a moment of silence

to prove that I am emotionally more mature

I can take it

I can rise above

the blood soaked streets

an angel of mercy

fuck that

fuck fuck fuck that

 

I don’t care about

perpetrators’ apologies 

how they feel remorse

I don’t want revenge 

I want an eon of silence

not a moment of silence

 

I want it to stop

before we’re all six feet under

 

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked)
 capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

 

Shelf Life

Shelf Life

moldy tub 

back of the fridge shelf

saved to save money

now lost to decay

so much food

we can’t eat it fast enough

bought in bulk

to save money

money is lost

when we can’t eat fast enough

when we eat fast enough

the time we save

is spent shopping for more

 

nothing that lasts

and when it does last

it can’t be used anyway

dispose don’t save

all those empty containers

take up more space

than we have to store what we need

they’ll come in handy

 

well if it hasn’t come in handy in a year

it’ll never come in handy

the surplus is comforting

but not profitable

share don’t save

the money you save

only pays off someone else’s bills

 

we reduce reuse

never have enough in the long run

while those that produce

what we have to reduce reuse

get fat bonuses 

and the prices keep going up

to cost us more than we save

 

when we run out

the planet gives its last gasp

don’t blame me

save your breath

even if there’s no profit 

in saving it

that is

if anyone can still breathe

on the back shelf

A neighbour recently cleaned out his garage and offered me two large boxes for jars & lids. All types of jars, glass, plastic. jars that had held jams, peanut butter, mayo and the like. He had kept them expecting to use them one day. When he ran out space in his basement he moved them to the garage. One box had 1995 written on the side, the other said 2010. He just hated to see them go to waste. I hated to think of what else he was still keeping for that someday when it would come in handy.

I identified with him though. I do have a drawer full of elastic bands mixed with bread bag clips – stopped buy bread in 1999. So this piece is about packaging and the hold ‘stuff’ can have on us.It also touches on  the fear of not having enough in a consumer culture in which having too much is seen as prosperity, while have enough is a compromise.

In Toronto we sort our garbage for recycling but I just don’t how much gets recycled – I’ve never seen a program that shows what happens to all those newspapers, tin cans, jars that we put in the right bins. Though I did see a news item a few years ago about how the cost of warehousing the city’s pick up of recycling is greater than is recouped by selling it so they were giving it away to some company and paying the shipping costs. I’m sure some executive got a nice bonus for facilitating that solution.

Toronto Hydro has a push for us wasteful consumers to reduce our power usage. More efficient lightbulbs, refrigerators and best times to lower the strain on the network. What about the strain die to sleep loss doing my laundry at midnight to save money? I wonder how energy efficient the Hydro offices are? solar powered computers? 


Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Escoude and The Boys

I have, as a stand-alone CD, bought on sale at HMV, Christian Escoude with strings: Plays Django. That is Django Reinhardt one of the jazz guitar masters who pioneered guitar in jazz & remains one of the most amazing players. Escoude captures the sound & flavour of Django but not the ‘energy.’ This is a great recording for anyone starting on their jazz journey.

His sound is similar to Wes Montgomery – inventive without being aggressive. Tasteful & sweet. The strings provide a sonic pillow for the guitar but, to me, don’t add anything to the music. This is often my issue with string quartets in jazz they rarely interact with, in this case, the guitar. I suppose they are meant to add a level of sophistication but who cares. They become another sound as opposed to a participant. Almost lounge music but excellent.

Speaking of lounge music next on the shelf is the soundtrack to The Fabulous Baker Boys – a fine movie about brothers, played by the Bridges brothers Beau & Jeff, who are dual piano playing nightclub performers. Think Ferrante & Teicher. Dave Grusin music is spot on but it is Michelle Pfeiffer who steals the movie & makes the soundtrack a must have. She does her own singing & sets the piano top on fire with Makin’ Whoopie & My Funny Valentine. Bought this a yard sale for a buck as a real stand-alone – it didn’t even a jewel case.

Next the perfect antidote to the the previous is The Essential John Fahey – folk/blues experimental guitarist. Inventive, warm & an amazing guitarist. His layered use of sounds mark him as a precursor for hip-hop & sampling. The sound quality of his acoustic guitar is fresh & some of this could be new yesterday it hasn’t dated at all. This is an lp to cd dupe. I picked up the lp at Cheapies, back in the day 🙂

Deal With It

Judy peered up the the sixth floor. Were there lights on in her place? Was someone home? She had her key but she just didn’t like to get home when there was no one else there. 

A bunch of boys played kick ball in the courtyard behind the building.

‘Hey Judy want to kick this around?’

‘Oh yeah Safti. Call me when its fully grown.’

The boys laughed and let her pass.

‘What’s up with that brother of yours?’

She didn’t answer. Nothing to tell. They knew the cops had picked him up a few weeks ago. Why a boy would want to keep getting in trouble for these guys was beyond her? If he was here though she could get him to look after those bitches as school. Threaten to kill her would they? She’d get someone to show them a thing or two.

‘Hi Judy.’

‘Hi Mr. Ramos.’

The super of the building creeped her out. He was just so nice and always had a smile. Didn’t seem right. All men are pigs and want something. Her mother told her that over and over. Just like your dad. Don’t give’m a chance.

‘You look a bit down about something.’

‘Nothing Mr Ramos. History test tomorrow. I want to well so Ma’ll be proud of me.’

‘History. Taking that in school sure helps me with my work here. You know what I mean.’

She squeezed by him in the corridor. 

The apartment was empty. Since Sal was gone even emptier. She checked for phone messages. Her Ma sometimes left messages when she wasn’t going to get home from the store. There were two. One from Ma that she’s be late; and the other:

‘Listen Judy goody two shoes you better watch your step or we will cut you. This is just between us so don’t get any ideas or they’ll be last ideas you get.”

Someone the background said, ‘Good one Jen.’

‘Have a good night bitch or deal with it.’

Judy sank into the couch. What could she do? How did they get her phone number? Her heart beat. These girls were after her and had been since school started. She had never seen them before and now they were out to kill her. Who could she tell. No one because if she told they’d kill her for sure.

Her Ma would say ‘Don’t be such a pussy.’ or ‘I’ll come down there and set them straight.’

God what could be worse – death or your mom coming to stick up for you in front of everyone as school?

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked)
 capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

 

Polite

On a recent Disability After Dark Andrew Gurza talks about the times he’s been a douche bag with his sexual interactions. Some of them struck me as being part of a learning curve. Some of them come out of how our cultural awareness & sensitivity has changed but it’s easy to judge how we behaved 10 years ago with how we behave today.

Listening to his experiences, as always, makes me look at how I’ve behaved in the past. I have used excuses not to meet with someone rather than come right out & say I’m not interested, or not interested anymore. The polite Canadian doesn’t say ‘you’re too fat’ – they say ‘I don’t think we’re a good match’ when size is the issue.

I decline opportunities by reading what a man has listed in his profile. It’s easier, to me, to say I’m not into party’n’play, which is true, than say you don’t appeal to me at all. One man I met, who was quite taken with me (no surprise there) when we first met, whose English comprehension was nil, wanted FWB – the main benefit being his English tutor. Sticking to my primary purpose lead me to decline after out first ‘date.’

I think the worse thing I do is ‘ghost’ – if after the initial communication & text conversation I’m not that interested I merely stop responding rather saying ‘I’m not interested ‘in being your ass pussy’ or ‘in making you my ass pussy.’ Nor am I interested being anyone’s esl tutor or explaining the political context of my decisions when all I want is fun sex.

Damned Hands

‘keep your canned hams on the shelf’

or was that

‘keep your damned hands to yourself’

often I don’t quite hear what people say

like the time 

I heard someone shouting 

‘jesus loves your shoes’

as they gave out flyers 

 

‘wow’ I thought ‘there’s a personal saviour 

I can believe in’

but when I got one of the flyers it said 

‘jesus loves your soul’

or maybe it was payless for shoes

claiming it could save your soles

 

then there was the woman

ranting on a street corner 

‘one day you’re wearing sunglasses

the next day your not

how can I really know you’

I think that’s what she said

I never went to back to find out

I never stopped to say

‘mom it’s just me’ 

 

I wasn’t wearing sunglasses

she probably wasn’t my mother

I didn’t think she was talking to me

I got over that a long time ago

I don’t think I’m the centre of anyone’s attention

when they shout ‘hey fuck head faggot’ 

they mean some other jackass

 

there is so much out there

trying to take my focus

I don’t focus on anything

often forgetting people I have run into 

unless I make a note in my soul

the one that jesus loves

 

if they put their damned hands on me

it would be a question 

of where those hands were last

how much would they be willing to pay

are they ready to shut up and take it 

like a canned ham

are they ready to love my shoes

are they ready to be so in to me 

that they won’t hear 

their own mother in the street

 

or are they unfocused stumblers

like myself

not paying attention to much

happy to sit for a little while

watch the scream of life whizz by

https://wp.me/P1RtxU-2f6


http://www.queerslam.com

every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked)
 capfireslam.org 

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

 

Coal Dusters Chapter V

Chapter V

Lillian Sets The Table

“Now you remember that today is the day the union men are coming to speak with me.”
“Yes Unc … I mean Father Pat. I baked two pies last night.”

“Apple and rhubarb.”
“Yes, as you requested. I also made some of the chicken soup you enjoy.”

“Not too meaty I hope.”

“No.”

“Good. We want them to know the Lord is bountiful but also that we aren’t foolish with his bounty.” He wiped the last of the egg yolk up with a crust of the bread.

“This is very good bread, Lillian. You have learned very quickly. I’ll never forget that first loaf.” He laughed as she blushed. “I’m still using it as a door stop at the church.”

“God finds a use for everything.” She forced a laugh. It was all she could do not to run from the room to cry.

As he got up, she took his plate for her own use. Once he was gone, she sat at the table with her egg on a thin slice of bread. She held her breath till she heard the gate swing shut. This meant he was gone. She looked down at the yellow yolk of the egg and screamed. She beat the table with the palms of her hands.

She stopped abruptly and ate her breakfast.

There was much to do before the union men arrived for their lunch. This would be first time anyone had been into the house other than Mary Francis who would bring them fresh vegetables and milk once a week. 

She didn’t know what her father had told her uncle but it was clear she was not to leave the house unaccompanied. He would walk with her to his church where he did trust her enough to help with the children in the Sunday school rooms.

She took her mop and pail into the dark dining room. The window faced St. Agatha’s Church and very little light came through at any time of the day. No matter how much she cleaned, the house was never clean enough for her. Coal dust from the mines would be caught up by even the slightest breeze and get into the house. Even as she washed and wiped things down now, she knew by lunch time there would be some grime to catch her Uncle’s eye.

She continued from that room to the front parlour. Not much could be done to the over stuffed settee. She took the doilies off it and the other arm chair and shook them in the sun. She wiped the mantle piece and the sideboard twice. There was a rough wooden crucifix with a gleaming silver Jesus over the mantle where a mirror might have been. On one end of the mantle in a less-gleaming silver frame was picture of Pope Pius XI in white vestments. His hand raised in blessing. She lifted it gingerly to wipe behind it. Before she continued she genuflected before the portrait. 

She then dusted the heavy legs of the dark wooden chairs that flanked the front window. The window looked out on Upper Victoria Street. The window panes had been imported by a previous parish priest. They were thick but clear with beveled corners. Lillian looked forward to cleaning them to enjoy the refraction of light that came though the bevel angles. This room was the most ornate in the house. 

Father Patrick kept their private quarters as if they were cloister but here, where he might receive members of the parish, he allowed some ostentation. The furniture had been shipped from Boston from the estate of an aunt who had willed it to him. 

Was it her fault that her father had money while all Patrick had was religion? Was it her fault she had been brought up with servants – a cook, housemaids – who did all the chores in their home so she never had to do them herself. She had never cooked, washed a floor, or even had to worry about doing laundry. Now here she was doing all these things.

Now here she was having to be careful that her private things weren’t seen by anyone. Washing her undergarments in secret, as if sunlight might reveal them to be what … she wasn’t sure. 

The memory of her uncle’s reaction to them when he examined the contents of her trunk was even more shaming to her than her first attempts to bake bread.

The morning passed quickly. Lillian found she worked better without the help of Annie. Not that the local girl was slow but Annie never had the hurry or the need to please as deeply as Lillian did. Her uncle would rail at Annie for small things and she would stand there blank faced and nod and keep on doing what she was doing the way she wanted to. After two months it was deemed that Lillian had the skills to do what was required and Annie had been reduced to being used only when needed.

When her uncle railed at Lillian she was fearful. She didn’t want bad reports going back to her father in Boston. The better she did here the sooner she hoped she would be able to return to her comfortable life. Her brothers’ letters were full of events and people she longed for plus there was the tantalizing suggestion he might be getting married in the fall. Surely she would be allowed to attend the nuptials.

She had made a simple chicken soup for the lunch. There was enough for several people as she wasn’t told how many were expected. Soup was easy to stretch out with a bit of water and a pinch of salt if there wasn’t enough. There would be sandwiches. 

She carefully buttered the bread. If there was too much butter spread, her uncle would chastise her for being wasteful. Bread was good on its own, he told her, but for company he requested the butter along with thin slices of hard cheese.

She slipped a wedge of the pale yellow cheese into her mouth. This was another of the foods that were rarely served in the house. Even with its lack of taste the cheese delighted her. She was grateful that the meals her uncle enjoyed were simple and did not tax her limited kitchen skills.

As the soup simmered she went back to the dining room to make sure the table was set properly. One skill she had brought with her was the ability to set a table for guests. Knives, forks, wine glasses and soft linen napkins all in their proper places. The china and silverware were the few expensive things her uncle owned. 

The china was from a Royal Worcester set that had come into her family and been split amongst her aunts and uncles. Her uncle had a serving for six, almost, as over the years various plates or bowls had been broken. The ten-cup tea pot was serviceable. It pleased her to run her fingers over the thick roped gold edging of the soup bowls. The soup tureen she had to use wasn’t part of the set though, but she trusted no one would notice.

“Lillian!” her uncle called as he came through the front door. “Lillian!”

“Yes Father Patrick.” She put the soup bowl carefully back on the table and stepped into the parlour.

“Here is some wine from Mrs. Donati.” He handed her a glazed earthen ware jug.  “You did clean the wine glasses.”

“Yes.” Did he think she would neglect his pride and joy.

He followed her into the dining room. He took the wine glasses off the table and set them on an oval silver tray around an empty crystal decanter. These had been left by the last priest.

“We’ll only need, let me think, three, no four including me.”

“There’ll be four for lunch then Father Pat?” She began to remove the unneeded place settings from the table. “You won’t be crowded.”

“These are a wonder.” her uncle held one of the heavy crystal glasses up to the window to admire it in the dim light. “Father Guinness had an eye for good crystal. Such a wonder.” 

A wonder to keep clean she mused. “Is there anything else I should tend to? Before your guests arrive?”
“No. I’ll pour this wine into the decanter. Bring me something to strain it with. Mrs Donati’s wine is delicious but the sediment can be distracting.”

She brought him the piece of cheesecloth she often used. She knew it was porous enough for the wine.

“Those pies smell heavenly.” he said taking a deep breath. 

“Thank you Father Pat. I put them to warm as you suggested.” 

There was a knock at the door.

“I’ll let them in.” Her uncle took the tray with the glasses and wine into the parlour and set it on the side board. “Don’t come in until I call for you.”

 

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

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Nothing To Lose

samprules2

Working through the  227 Rules For Monks. Who knew the simple life could be so complex. This another of the 92 pācittiyas.

Nothing To Lose

I was sure I left it there

it was there the last time I looked

I haven’t seen it

have you looked in here

have you looked anywhere 

or did you expect me to know

to keep an eye on things

without being asked

I don’t know where it is

I have more important things to do

no I didn’t move it

I didn’t see anyone take it

this is where I usually put it

I can’t leave the house without it

it can’t be replaced

there’s no reason for it to be moved

it has to be here always

it’s the perfect spot for it

it didn’t move itself

did it fall off the floor

is it under here

is it upstairs

did you even bring it with you

did you leave the house without it

you can always get a new one

it was time to move on

time to let go

of the hold of things

free yourself of objects

find a place

where there is nothing to lose

nothing to be looked for

nothing to be hidden

and everything

to be revealed

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

Coal Dusters Chapter II

Chapter II

Birk Nelson Gets A New Rake Man

The sun was rising over the steaming mounds of slag coal. The mound never got any smaller no matter how much was carted away to the wash plant. Coal was already being loaded into a rail car to be transported to the dock.

They went into the change room and lowered their work clothes from the overhead hangers. 

“Birk Nelson!” Red Mac, the shift foreman, called to him.

“Yeah.” Birk grabbed for his brass counter. 

“Birk,” the foreman nodded for him to come over to the small office. “This is Clancy Sinclair. He’ll be your rake man.”

“Manny was doing okay.” Birk squinted at Clancy.

Clancy looked to be a head taller than him, a lot wider in the shoulders with blond almost brown hair. 

“Not my say so,” Red Mac shrugged. “Orders from above. Manny’s moving on to the scuttle yard.”

“Fuk,” Birk spat. He had hoped to get that position. Scuttle yard was where the coal was loaded into the rail cars. It was as hard work as being under in the mines but it was above ground. All the miners longed to work above ground.
“I know you wanted it but yer too good. Yer a lucky chap Clancy. Birk Nelson is one the best we got.”

“Yeah sure. Sticking me with this skinny rat. He must disappear down there.”

“Whose yer father?” Birk asked.

“Scott Sinclair.”

“The Bras D’Or Sinclair’s?” Birk said.

“Nah, Stellarton.”

“Main lander?” Birk said.

“What of it?” Clancy replied.

Birk grabbed Clancy’s left hand. Clancy pulled it away.

“What you up to?”

“Checking to see how tough your hands is. Skin’s too soft this job.”

“Least we’ll know when my hair ‘s clean. You black as coal already.” he sniffed the air. “You sure you washed ‘for you came here?”

“Mac, you stick me with puddin’ boy here and I won’t make enough to pay for a pint let alone our tic at the pluck me.”

“Soft! Least I’m full size.” Clancy stood as tall as he could. “Not some half-sized hairy mine monkey.”

“Who you callin’ a monkey, you soft arse.” Birk launched himself at Clancy and landed two solid punches in quick succession. One to the side of Clancy’s head and the other to his stomach.

Clancy staggered back and was ready to punch back when Red Mac pushed stepped between them.

“Nuf of this. You want beat the dust out of each other do it out of my yard.”

“Then stick this soft arse with someone else ‘cause only one of us is coming back up and you know it’s me.”

“Both of you will come back. Listen and listen good Birk Nelson. You have sisters who need what you put on the table. Next time to want to take a swing at someone keep that in mind, ‘cause the next time you take a swing at me you’re out of here. You understand that.”

Birk snatched his lunch pail and rammed it under his arm.

“And you Clancy. You’re new here. You gotta learn to mind your tongue. This isn’ a place to run off at the mouth with guys you don’t know. Some here wouldn’t be as gentle wid ya as Birk here was.”

“No one calls me soft.”

“Who is to say.” Red Mac pulled himself up to his full height – a head taller than Clancy, two heads taller than Birk. “Only a soft arse would let himself get riled up this easy. And that goes for the two of you. Birk you take him down to the face with you. I’ll be down soon enough to make sure you’re acting the way men should and not school kids. Understand.”

“Yes sir.” Birk glared at Clancy. “Follow me.”

“I’m not taking orders from him. You’re not paying enough for that.”

“You want to work or not. I git plenty looking for work here me son. Plenty. You can go back to …”

“Christ! I’ll give it a try.” Clancy cut Red Mac off.

“Come along then,” Birk grunted and added under his breath, “soft arse.”

“What you say?” Clancy snapped back.

“I said come along we got a long way to go. Level Ten.”

They got into the cage with a dozen other miners. Adjusted their head lamps as it rattled down the shaft. The shift car pushed the men back and forth. Each time Clancy was forced up against Birk, Birk roughly shoved him away. 

The smell of earth got stronger as the cage descended. Earth and coal. The dampness increased. As the cage passed some levels Birk could hear water dripping, or blasts as new seams were opened. The levels spread out from the elevator shaft. Some for a few hundred yards, others went for miles. Some, such as the one on Level 10 went under the ocean. Birk still expected his pick would punch right through to the sea bed above.

Total blackness quickly enveloped the men but not all of them turned on their lamps. It was better to let the eyes adapt to the dark as quickly as possible. Birk could find his way to the face he was working on without light. 

“Stick close now or yer arse is going get hard fastern than you want it.” Birk said when they got off the cage. He took a deep breath. “Better take a breath while you can. That’s the last of the fresh air you’ll get till we’re ready to head up.”
“Get moving.” Clancy give Birk a slight shove.

Knowing his way Birk moved quickly over the uneven surface to the crease where he was working. He could hear Clancy stumbling behind him. That’d teach the big mouth who was the big man.

“Watch yer head here.” He muttered as they came to the final turn. He ducked down and then up avoiding the staving joist that was holding the ceiling.

“Oof.” 

“Y’d think y’d never been in the dark before.” Birk chuckled as he heard Clancy bump the rafter.

“Never down this deep.” Clancy was trying to catch his breath.

“Better get used to it quick, as yer going t’be spending most yer awake time in the dark, same as in your sleep time. Day light’ll not be your pal again.” He stored his lunch can behind the upright paling that helped to support the weight of the ceiling.

“Thanks.” Clancy gasped.

Birk stopped and Clancy stumbled into him.

“Watch it.” Birk pushed him back. “Tight nuf in here ya know. Here’s yer rake. You know how to handle one.”
“Christ yeh. I rake, pile and when pile is big nuf we shovel it in into the cart, when the cart is full we get it to the line to dump it into the shuttle.”

“Trick is to keep up wid me boy.”

Birk tied his face rag around his mouth and nose, tuned his headlamp on and starting hammering with his pick axe at his crease. As the shards and chunks of coal loosened he pushed them behind him for Clancy to rake away. 

After a few minutes his shoulder muscles loosened and his mind stopped thinking about anything except what he was doing, how fast he was doing it. Steadily he deepened the vein as he followed it along. He could feel the change in vibration in his pick as hit different types of rock, sulphur, granite, different strata of the vein, even different hardnesses of the coal itself. He had no sense of time but of quantity. Once he had dislodged enough coal to fill the hopper he wriggled out to help Clancy push the cart to the main line. Before they dumped into the shuttle he relived himself on the coal.

Clancy was about to do the same. Birk took Clancy’s free hand and peered at in the light of his headlamp. The skin on the hand was rubbed raw, bleeding along the thumb.

“Just as I thought soft. Piss on it.”
“What?” Clancy tired to pull away.

“Yeh it’ll help toughen the skin faster. Took me a week before m’hands could take it.” He watched as Clancy rubbed his hands in his own urine.

“Christ feels okay.”

“Don’ think I forget what ye called me up there but don’t want you to slow me down any either. You un’stand.”

“Yeh.”

“Do ya think ya can keep up wid me by?” Birk muttered.

“Nothing to it.” Clancy wheezed.

“You gotta learn to breath down here.” Birk said. “You breathin’ too deep.”

All they could make out of each other in the dim light of their head lamps was their eyes. Their face coverings were coated with black dust.

“I’ve been keepin’ a bit slow. Two more of these and we take a wee break for eatin.” He began to shove the cart back to where they were working. 

“Oof.” Clancy bump hard into the low rafter.

“Listen an learn. Not goin to warn you every time m’boy.”

“I’m not yer b’y.” Clancy snarled. “Keep goin’ ya damned monkey.”

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

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy ice-cream in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

Taking Sides

Taking Sides

it is a matter

of what is relevant

of what I think

I can bring to the situation

without creating
even more a divide

when neither party

is willing to hear the other

 

they are each so invested

in the rightness of their opinion

of their interpretation of things

each sees the other

as an attack of fundamental values

of their personal wants & needs

 

in fact each side says things

that I once said & felt

but didn’t see the value in holding on to

harmony became more important

than forcing things to my view point

compromise was a sign of willingness

to change

 

which why I was willing

to keep my mouth shut

neither placating or explaining

people who don’t listen 

aren’t worth my time

 

Part of my past was the need to prove my ‘depth’ but getting caught up in arguments – or were they heated discussions – to demonstrate my insights, my articulate precision & also how right I was. Often these were issues that meant nothing to me – hockey violence – who really deserved that Oscar. 

Along with that was a need to be a placater – someone who could smooth things out between people & in the process show each side that neither was really right. The result was usually that I was sticking my nose in where it wasn’t needed. Which of course allowed all of us to feel unappreciated and giving us targets to vent our intellectual scorn upon.

I know that if I have to convince someone of anything then I’m wasting my breath. I can tell when someone isn’t listening, or open to listening. I see this in the ‘real’ world a lot – the teens against guns movement in the USA makes for good press but the people who need to listen already have fortified themselves against hearing anything with ‘these teenagers don’t know what they are talking about.’ Wanting to go to school without the risk of a massacre is seen as just a youthful, anti-capitalist folly caused by listening too much nasty hiphop.

I have an acquaintance who is pro-Trump. Pointing out the press about his actions – actual news footage that shows him saying thing he denies saying they just look at me as if I’ve been deluded. Last time she brought up Trump I changed the subject saying ‘We differ and there’s nothing to be gained.’ I become the one with closed mind because I don’t agree. Such is life. It isn’t worth my time trying to open it.

Hey! Now you can give me $$$ to defray blog fees & buy coffee in Washington at 2018’s capfireslam.org – sweet,eh? paypal.me/TOpoet

April 2018 Sneak Peek

April starts with a shower of events. April 3 I launch the serialization of Coal Dusters. Editing it has been pleasure, not work, & was sad to come to the end of the manuscript as I really enjoyed living with characters. April 6 is the finale for Hot Damn! It’s A Queer Slam Season 4. The winner gets to attend Capturing Fire in June – travel & accommodations paid :-).

The month hopefully becomes routine after those events. Edits for Coal Dusters will continue as each segment is made ready for its debut. There are rumours of some Stratford day trips to catch a preview or two. There will be time for gardening, if the weather cooperates. Of course work will continue on the 227 Rules as I work though them – writing new ones, editing the old ones & being surprised at where those prompts take me.

Photos here will be green on Monday; books on Wednesday; various on Thursday; cars will continue to rule Fridays. I let my Tumblr posts slip in March to devote time to Dusters & I also had a head cold that was distracting but I hope to get back at that in April.

#Toronto #photography #amwriting #spokenword #April #dating #lgbtq #poetry #Ontario

Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet

April 6, Friday – Hot Damn! It’s A Queer Slam Slam Season 4 finals: 8 pm Buddies In Bad Times Theatre


HotDamn! It’s A Queer Slam

http://www.queerslam.com

April 03 – every Tuesday

June 8-9 – Capturing Fire 2018 – Washington D.C. (flight & hotel already booked) capfireslam.org 


Like my pictures? I post lots on Tumblr

https://www.tumblr.com/blog/topoet