Thomas Osatchoff : Down Here in the Coal Mine : Poetry : August 2019

Southern Legitimacy Statement: I am not born and bred but I have lived in the South–and if being an authentic individual is what the South is about–then I am Southern. Also, my son was born about as deep down as you can get and still be in America.

Down Here in the Coal Mine

My co-worker said all he really wanted was to abide
by God’s rules, provide for his family and to be blind
to all the rest—maybe do some fishing; have some beers
if he could be so fortunate he’d be happy and God bless
but the dark got the best of him first then the rest of him second.
Some things I need but I ain’t need no school he said
I reckon near every day to her and to himself he fed on
the underground which kept safe any tears.
He brushed them away real fast and looked past her saying
I ain’t never said no lies to you about these here mines.
I was thinking that in the worst case we need to be strong.
And he told her he thought she was always strong;
that he was strong and seemed to be getting stronger
the longer he worked in these West Virginia coal mines.
He said he was wrong for getting himself incarcerated
but that he could never regret nothing. Death is for real
he said and that’s where I’m going but not today.
I gotta get paid so I can take care my family.
Sometimes he’d say a swim in a pool would be enough
then he’d get back to work. But in his heart he kept wishing
to get out of there at last to become the first musician
to make it from here. His great ambition
to escape all that grime. But death is for real down here
in these mines he said asking me that if something happens
to him will I tell people the truth how he would tell it?
Between gulps of cola he told me that if something happens
to him that I should take her to California like they always dreamed.
Cola was his favorite beverage. Having hated coffee his whole life
owing to the blistering tummy sores his daddy developed
having drunk gallons of the stuff darn near every day his life
trying to keep awake on them roads driving truck.
Story is his ulcers got so bad he had to quit the coffee.
First day he quit drinking he crashed his semi
into a wall of ancient rock just past the ditch he drove into
having fallen asleep at the wheel. His daddy burned to death
in that there truck. And so his son learned himself a way
of talking which betrayed a dark intensity tempered by the blue-
grass or sometimes just blues he played on his guitar
at family get-togethers. Singing into the dark hours
a wisdom forged from internal pressures:
death is for real anywhere you might happen to be
it can get you so I’ll keep mining coal
as long as I ain’t getting a paycheck sitting at home….
I might as well be down here
in these dark mines. Death is for real down here.
I seen people die. But it’s about all I know. Mining coal.
She said that even after he showered she could still see coal
in his eyes. Then one day the bosses called him to the office
for a surprise. Told him there’s easier cheaper coal out there
than in these Appalachian mines. He laughed. Life is like that.
One minute you’re worried about this danger killing you
then it ends up being another that does you in.
So he thought he should show her before it’s all done.
Ignoring his sore stomach he brought her down into the coal mine.
Brought a camera too. It had always been her fantasy to act in movies.
It had always been his fantasy to make a cola commercial with her.
He described it real well: they’d be down there together in the dark
dirty mine within the bowels of the earth. And it’d be a small space
so they’d be tight together and real thirsty he’d reach for a bottle
of Open Happiness to Life Begins Here.
What he didn’t plan for was the Joy Continuous
malfunctioning…cutting into the energized feeder wire and igniting
the oil on the machine…sparking the real thing into orange flames,
smoke. Dark, twice over.