The Colliery

The Colliery

while white sun simmers 

ocean’s edge 

we enter the colliery 

follow the guide 

metal basket jostles us down 

down 

smell coal seeping ocean 

light becomes dark then black 

 

thin beams from helmet lamps
graze without illuminating 

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

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

from above below 

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

hope for traction 

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

keep us safe 

 

a pressure in the lungs
the scatter of the fear 

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

 

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

in one another’s arms 

 

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

to life 

to summer 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

previous Brown Betty posts:

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

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

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

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

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


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

Looking Eating #CapeBreton Part 1

Travel often means eating in diners, cafes, restaurants & airports. Even staying, as I did, with my sister here in Sydney, I dined out more than usual. Usually for lunch.  With more Tim Ho’s per capita than doctors, Cape Breton is right on the money for coffee and donuts. What I like about the Tim’s here is that the coffee is stronger than in Toronto and they offer a regional snack – oak cakes – that I love.

My airport dining experience was in Toronto – things done to chicken at a Swiss Chalet – their summer special Greek meal – the tzatziki make a good replacement for the sauce plus the veggies were not over cooked but a bit of feta would have completed the meal.

the lunch room
the lunch room

When we went to the Miners’ Museum we ate at the Miners’ Village Restaurant after we went through the exhibits. The menu was limited but hearty. I would have like to see a few more nods of what the miners would have eaten – I’m sure they didn’t have California veggie wraps. I went for the hot hamburger with gravy sandwich. the burger was excellent – the fries okay. The Museum itself is excellent for an introduction into the mines but merely hints at the daily life of the miners. A trip into the mine is the best way to get a feel for the conditions the miners worked in.

After the Miners’ I hit the Whitney Pier Museum – which I love – not much new has been donated since I was last there 5 years ago but I enjoyed going through the old high school year books and seeing the exhibits on the extensive and various ethnic communities that were isolated in the Pier. Many groups sought to stick together and never strayed far from their ‘stomping grounds.’ Even in Toronto is Little Italy, Little India etc. But there is an awareness of each other – when I grew up in Sydney, I didn’t know there was black community till I was in my late teens.east

On Monday I had lunch with an old friend at Centre 200 where I had forgettable bacon & eggs to the sound of clicking slot machines. An ideal place to get caught up with each other without the distraction of tasty food.

Tuesday was another lunch with another old friend – this time at an old haunt – The New Moon was the first Chinese restaurant to open in Sydney. I can sort of remember my first jumbo shrimp, definitely remember my first Singapore Sling. The menu remains pretty much unchanged, prices haven’t gone up that much either and the food was good.

It was a short walk from the New Moon to hit Wentworth Perk again, had time to sit on the patio and enjoy the rather steady stream patrons. More attractive men who needed a shave than I would have expected. Coffee as good as on my first visit, great date square & my old friend gave me a section of her Turtles cheese cake which was perfect. I did hear from one of the owners after my pervious post and they hoping to start a spoken-word night in the fall.

Perk view of Park

Travel also mean a change in routine for me. Not big changes but enough to make me appreciate getting back to those routines. Less reading, less writing too – this time – but I have been making notes & picking up books to fill in the context for my next novel (Coal Dusters). I’ve had a few chats about it with people I’ve met on my search for info & the reaction is positive. The time era – mid 1920’s – is one that hasn’t been look at too closely and certainly not in fiction.

……….

here’s an old piece about growing up in Cape Breton –

Sonship

it’s hard to tell

when he became the son

his dad didn’t expect

 

was it when he hit

that dangerous hormone rush

and couldn’t concentrate in school

didn’t know where to look

where his eyes were supposed to focus

 

what was the target –

long division or

longing to doodle scribbles

that might form words

but even spelling

was beyond his grasp

 

couldn’t slip into some easy identity

all he wanted was to be left alone

why bother asking him questions

he wasn’t one of those bright kids

who could memorize the times tables

 

a boy adrift in the hazy life

where roles were cut out for you

from the start he felt himself drift

through those holes

it didn’t feel so easy at the time

the puzzlement

he knew those tight formations

weren’t for him

not that he was mr rebellious

merely mr a little off centre

moving in his own way

 

caught up in a culture that said

you can be what you want

as long as you keep it to yourself

the secret secret

that made it all right

and above all

don’t fail to appear apologetic

shame makes all the difference

to the different

 

it’s hard to tell

when I became the son

my dad didn’t expect

probably before I was born