Coal Mining, 1929

The machine man clocked in for his shift and went down
in the rattling lattice cage, swallowed whole.
He took his pride beside his fate to go down:
Down in darkness on a thin September day
below the gear at Woodhall’s Virtuewell;
Down through the narrow stooping ways of dust
chiselled deep beyond pretence and arrogance;
Down into the shafted maze of galleries
and lamps and damp and fearful gas;
Down to face his fall below a breaking prop.

Part of him resurfaced in the ambulance waggon
that shook a broken pelvis (and shoulder, ribs and legs)
along twelve dreary morphined miles towards the mercy
of the grey and gaunt infirmary… where he went down again:
Down to meet the surgeons in their antiseptic halls;
Down to months of care, preparing for the knife
which clinically killed him by infection.
Down, he left a pregnant widow with ten children
to manage in the hungry years;
Down and gone. But unforgotten in our genes.

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river

We settled our agreement,
to release the ties of energy that had bound us in the crowd
and looked around our littoral for purpose;

We were castaways – at home along the riverside, watching for the tide to rise
and ease a passage through the shallow channels of our lives –
who’d reached a low landscape, north-lit by clear light,
a spare light, with beauty in its bleakness,
swept by squalls which brought a thin corrosive rain in from the sea…

So we filtered grains of meaning from the water as we drank
where sediment settled slowly, fouling our drinking water,
thickening against the bank which formerly defined the flow,
its silt erasing every corner ounce by ounce and ton by ton;
rebuilding our eroded land…

While we whiled away our hours considering the exotic:
the intriguing possibilities of amber buried in the flats
that brought to mind and polished memories of memories,
of sunlight trapped in resin, with an insect
or small fragments and some bubbles that had-not-quite-escaped…

Until we found, although the waters rose
and filled inertia’s drowned embrace around us,
that we had made a pilgrimage of sorts, in mud.