On my desk at work I have a lump of coal and a small photograph of my grandfather and great-uncle standing outside a mine with lamps on their heads. It’s one of my great treasures. On the back of the photo someone wrote, “This was taken at the coal bank see the coal car. Years ago. It is really natural.”
I have a love/hate relationship with coal. It’s the lifeblood of my home state, but it’s dangerous, dirty and newer methods like mountaintop removal mining do horrific things to the land and the people. Here’s a poem about a man who has dedicated his life to stopping the lopping off of mountains to get at the coal inside.
FOR THE MAN AGAINST
You held that flyer like the flag
of a country you once knew
You grew up here. Your children
are coming up after you.
But it’s a different place now,
with lopped off mountains,
polluted streams, washed out valleys,
fear and anger eroding the land
in equal measure.
You looked wistful.
Noted that there would be games
and food and probably music
(there’s always music).
We laughed and said they wouldn’t
shoot you in front of your children.
You said, “maybe they would.”
Maybe they would.
You left the coal company flyer
lying there, curled in on itself
like a rhododendron leaf
on winter’s first cold morning.
You walked away slow,
a stranger looking for a way