Anthracite
A Trilogy
Marilyn Pocius Shelton

1.

I hoist my hems for the devilish descent
Down where no bone reaches save my pen

I chisel by inches with the image of a pick
Picture of an axe, auger seen in no one’s eyes
But mine

Grandpa, when you lay down in a chink
Of coal, did you see your mother’s eyes
Rimmed with tears as she waved good bye
Rooted in her Lithuanian soil?

2.

Settling Accounts

After you pay for your carbide
Your blasting powder and caps
For your laborers

After you pay the bar bill for
An egg in a beer going down
Shot and a beer coming up
For the card games you lost on payday
For the food you bought “on the book”
For the clothes the kids outgrew
Before you could pay for them

You end up owing money
To the Company for the privilege

Of crawling on your belly in the earth’s shank
Cracking from bone, slate and shale
The sparkling anthracite they don’t call
Hard coal
For nothing

3.

When I see the miners of a hundred years ago
Standing in a shy row for the camera
I see their exhausted eyes staring out
From sooted faces like empty plates

“Don’t go down in the mines” they said
Knowing the kind of life it was
Working in the cold, the sulfur and the damp

Ancestors, you might be surprised to know
That I’m the miner in the family now
I wear the solitary lamp
Crawl in constant black spaces

Seek in words
The splitting vein

Rare, blinking daylight


Marilyn Pocius Shelton hails from Scranton, Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in over 30 literary journals as well as in the HarperCollins anthology Bedside Prayers. Her book What the Light Has Shown was published by Mellen Poetry Press. Marilyn’s poems have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize.

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