Sunday, July 13, 2014

graveyard dredge: a poem

It's hard to think now, how men with their

shovelfuls and boatloads and sideroads mixed

the best color, the good rock, the pay streak, the bedrock.

Get a good look at shafts and rigs and steel hammers slamming

below the camp, beavers damming.

Get a good look at 8 square meters of tailing piles

men febrile and fevered, for miles

filling boxes with tools to reshape iron and wood

boxes of household and

grub, and wide metal tubs 

and the women lugging

ladles and bowls, stokeing wood-burning stoves.

They hauled anything they did not fear to lose, except

fingers and toes, 

 a man's body sliced in half

under pressure and hose.

Dead men, like dozers 

driving steam into frozen muck.

Get a good look at men, black-faced with grease

skin drawn tight against bone

scarred by an iron bucket's icy stones.

The dredge monster is asleep now

all rust and bones.

 So much required to pursue their desire

this great force, gold, like a god.

riches flowed

Women drank mint tea from thin rimmed cups

and men, with their restless hands and drunk injury

pierced the ground and staked fortunes,


with their blood.

*Poem and photos originated at Coal Creek Mine on the Yukon River during a writing workshop with poet, fiction writer and essayist, Gretel Ehrlich.


  1. You turned the dredge into art. Your gift for composition is strong.

  2. Thank you, Ned. It was such a pleasure driving with you and Julie...good time, good conversations...all warmly appreciated.

  3. The dredge monster clearly has been roused from sleep . . . and transformed via the tools of poetry.

  4. Ah! Thank you, Deborah; I like how you put that...the Yukon River transformed me; there was something mystical about it that ignited a creative spark

  5. Monica, I love this so much. The words and the photos, wonderful and inspiring. They truly made my day. So glad you shared!! :)

    1. There's nothing better than inciting a smile...thank you for stopping by, Petra.

  6. This really is marvelous. In its way, it evoked my coal-mining grandfather, and the ways of the mines in south-central Iowa when I was a child.

    It was a hard life, with hard rules. When a father was killed in the mines, it was understood that the eldest son would take his place. Then, should he fall, a brother would begin. My grandfather was injured in a slate fall. But then, in a move that surely caused consternation in the family and conflict in the community, he laid down the law: no son of his, and especially not his eldest, my father, would go into the mine. They would find another way.

    And they did. Thanks for your wonderful art, and for the memories.

    1. My husband is from Iowa and his grandfather worked in the mines as well. Such a hard life; people were worked to death in poor, unsafe conditions until unions and people like your grandfather changed things for the next generation.

  7. This reminds me of the Copper Mines around here, as well. Hard to imagine--the sorrow and grief and the mint tea, all one.

  8. Yes, Kathy...reminiscent of iron in the U.P. mountains...

  9. Your words are riveting and the pictures evoke strong feelings - the stories that these men must have carried with them to their graves...

  10. Cool poem. The photos really bring it to life.

  11. Beautiful, Monica. Are you familiar with Diane Gilliam's collection KETTLE BOTTOM? It's truly astounding. She received the $50,000 Gift of Freedom Award from AROHO.

    Page Lambert

  12. So good to hear from you, Page. I will definitely look up Diane's work.
    I've been trying to figure out how to present, in book form, my poems and photography work. Find a publisher, or self-pub. So many options these days...confusing!