by David Salner
THE SEVENTY-NINTH MINER
November 19, 1968
He could have been the seventy-ninth.
It was his first job, and he couldn't sleep.
After the moon rose, he stared through the window
into the backyard, which he'd just mowed, to the
creek, overgrown with sumacs and maples.
He heard the tires slick by in the rain,
walked past his parents' door, and listened
to the sound his father made, the breathing.
His father worked daylights at the face
but already he couldn't sleep lying down.
His mother looked tired in the kitchen light
from the dust– but more from contending
with everything else. "Your bucket's ready.
Eat something." He looked into his hands
and then the boy spoke"I could get a job
in the glass plant or the carbon factory."
More hoot-owl traffic went by in the rain
and one of the cars pulled into the drive.
For a moment, she stared at her son
as if she were giving him a bath and needed
to study his body for cuts or bruises.
Then she got up, breaking the watch,
and waved the car on. It sped off, late now,
for hoot-owl shift at Consol Number Nine.
Five months later, the mine kept exploding
even after they sealed the portal with concrete
and steel–on the other seventy-eight.
-first appeared in The Potomac Review.