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,
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.

0 thoughts on “graveyard dredge: a poem”

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    Cheers!
    Page Lambert

  4. 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!

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