a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
until you’re above them, one curvaceous
silhouette lingering alongside the other.
No way to divine coal in the mountains
until you dig into them—first full trains,
then rust-empty trestles, a stinking river.
Trucks with Friends of Coal bumper stickers
tucked haphazardly beside trailers nuzzled
to the hill like napping seeds, waiting for
the second coming, a paycheck, the good old days
to be good again, an easy ghost-lie, a fine mist
curling off the mountains when the rain lets up.
The only coal here is hymn-empty,
a cough coming from the T.V. room,
roads sleeping like a bed of copperheads.
No way to tell my family this is pride
wrinkled into shame, believing we can still
build love in the dark, after everything burns.
A pack mule carries supplies
for the journey and destination.
A full train going and empty coming.
A thing bred only for work
is man’s cruelest invention.
Tinder’s another name for what burns.
Digging anything from the earth is connected to greed. Towns centered around borax, salt, gold, ore, oil, diamonds, coal, or silver spring up. The saying is “overnight.” There is speechifying, assembly of buildings, patriotism and old-fashioned know-how. In any mining town, first the reprobates move in, then the law to control the reprobates, then reprobate women, then the marrying kind, and eventually the do-gooders. In the new school the children learn to use their minds, not to depend on their bodies. They read longer and longer books, learn about Russia, Descartes, polynomials, that burning coal is a physical change since a new substance is created. Even though parents don’t understand, they ask what did you learn at school today? The children go away to college, talk about moving back most nights on the phone, but only visit at Christmas. The do-gooders age, and some of their children quietly usher them out of state to old folks homes. The neighbors who are left attend each other’s funerals, but no one can figure out who buries the last man left.
Rachel Morgan is the author of the chapbook, Honey & Blood, Blood & Honey (Final Thursday Press 2017). Her work recently appears or is forthcoming in Crazyhorse, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, Bellevue Literary Review, Mid-American Review, Barrow Street, and elsewhere. She was a semi-finalist for 2016 Discovery/Boston Review Poetry Contest and a finalist for the 2017 Dylan Thomas American Poetry Prize. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Currently she teaches at the University of Northern Iowa and is the Poetry Editor for the North American Review.