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.
Women drank mint tea from thin rimmed cups
and men, with their restless hands and drunk injury
pierced the ground and staked fortunes,
PAID IN FULL
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.