My grandpa was a coal miner in 1923
living in a land eroded to dust,
sweating until black paste stained his face
and streaked like tiger stripes down his arms and legs.
he tore his lungs to the barest nebulae
only to earn a deeper spot in the pockets of
greasy fingernail rail men who never even noticed hard work
(in all its bedraggled glory)
pass them by in the street.
Did he see it coming?
did he know a day would come
when pressed books of fossils in the earth would be his boon,
and Finland would just be another peanut on a map?
maybe he watched his dirty children play in the street
with a barefoot Chinese boy from three houses down.
seeing the future running on,
shoving him deeper into the rocks,
was he content with his lot?
in a ramshackle coal town: 1923
leaning rock walls burst like firecrackers
and he became another printed name
in the newspaper’s obituary.
somewhere, a widow must have cried,
maybe in the crawl space under the stairs,
so her children wouldn't hear.
and maybe a railroad tycoon felt regret somewhere
beating at him under the layers and layers of clothes
coating his skin like thin sheets of paper.
I may never know what
he came here for, the reasons why
grass sprouts lie fresh and alive under January snows
all I know is there is no sly, side mouthed excuse
for my despair at an eight hour work day in a retail store
he died from a flipped switch, a fluke in man’s nature
while above the ground
we thrive on the fumes.