The world was wild then: 52, a snake of a road,
the only artery into the heart of the coal fields.
I knew then that beneath the earth's green top,
the black world teamed--man and machine
tunneling coal seams under our feet.
Back then, they dug in--today,
they take the mountain off.
I don't know what any of this means,
but 25 years later, out on the continent's edge,
I'm dreaming of black water run-off, the day
my father scorched the lawn with weed killer
he'd brought home from the mines
that the EPA had banned. I remember
the goiter man at Warden's market,
the hermit across the road who hung
his winter coat in the trees come spring.
My world was hollers and hills, sinkholes
in the grove beyond the garden gate. My father
dusty with coal dirt, worked the Long Wall
despite the UMWA strike, the snipers perched
high and dry on the ridge above. We sang
Bluegrass each Sunday in the choir,
and Tess, the Tupperware lady, testified.
We ate dandelion greens from the yard;
My Nana made Sassafras tea. And the only
exotic place anyone had ever been was Vietnam.
The pundits on TV say Appalachia's
moved north, west. It isn't the south
anymore. My brother says I've been gone
too long, it's left me. He tells me
West Virginia's walked out, but he's too young
to remember the world before government
cheese, the childhood threats of deportation
to Prunytown, Uncle Billy's sermons
on the true trinity of God, the union
and the Democratic machine.
Today, the mines are sealed with water,
not coal, and men sit idle at the abandoned
Exxon. They watch weeds grow
and know the forested hills hide illegal crops.
Their sons are in the army or the guard, working
at Walmart or the local car lot. They remember,
but their children don't. Once coal was king --
the imperfect world where men sunk
each morning into earth and emerged
each evening with the riches of black gold.
Those days, the union saved, and the ridges
sprouted houses , swimming pools.
We lived like Hollywood then--materialism,
God's gracious gift.