It’s a black dying world. Everything around us is black. Coal dust from the mine clings to everything. The damned stuff defies the broom. Scrubbing coal dust from the floor on your hands and knees is of no use. A sparkling floor today will be black again tomorrow. Dust seeps into the tiniest cracks where you have to dig it out.
Washing on the clothes line is speckled with black. Breakfast oatmeal is dotted with little black specks, and the milk is gray. There is no such thing as a white shirt to wear to church. I baked sugar cookies for my kid’s birthday. They were crunchy but not from the cookie itself.
We seal the cracks around the windows and throw a rug against the door. Explosions at the mine filled the air with black dust. The blasting never stops. When they need more coal they blast again; there is no regular schedule. When the explosions strike, it shakes the ground. You run and gather your clothes from the line.
The wind is a relentless enemy. It blows from the strip mine down the canyon to our little town. As the canyon widens, dust distils from the sky. The only respite from the 24 hours seven days a week bombardment is the driving rain. Frequent storms settle the dust and the little stream at the bottom of a canyon turns black.
Moving away would be the only answer. We both know the coal dust can’t be good for the kids. There comes the problem. My husband has a second marriage in our home. He’s also married to the coal mine. He is a third generation coal miner. He knows no other life. His friends and drinking buddies all work on the same shift with him.
We often talk long into the night. He tells me leaving the mine he would lose his seniority and his pension. He admits to being afraid. He is content to come home black from head to foot. I tell him he will never see a penny of his pension. He will die young as most of the miners do. Last year he came home one night beaten to a pulp. Company thugs beat him senseless for leading the men out on strike.He’s afraid to try again.
I’ve reconciled myself to be a coal miner’s wife. I can’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. We make just enough money to pay the rent and pay off the company store. I feel trapped and helpless. I cry myself to sleep at night.
I am a she-bear when it comes to my kids; I insist they do well in school. I’ll be damned if one of them will ever step foot in that mine.
Mike Berger has an MFA, Ph.D. He writes poetry and short stories full time. He has been writing poetry for less than four years. His work appears in seventy-one journals. He has published two books of short stories and eight poetry chapbooks.The winner of several poetry contests, he has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He is a member of The Academy of American Poets.