The Coal Miner’s Wife: A Letter

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The Coal Miner’s Wife: A Letter

by Joseph Bathanti
Southern Cultures, Vol. 20, No. 4: Winter 2014

"my father, as yours, deep in the pit, my mother silent as plums . . . "

(as Ezra Pound’s adaptation, from the Chinese,
of Li Po’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife, A Letter”)
“Southern women have alabaster skin.” Li Po

We were from the same town, Cowen,
along the Gauley, Webster
County—church, twice of Sunday,
Wednesday evening prayer meeting.

I swore to every whit of it.
Hair chopped in bangs across my brow,
I played in moon flowers
and Bleeding Hearts.

Subterranean even as a boy,
feats were nothing to you.
You crawled the culvert
pipe to save Blind Ruby’s kitten,

one eye blue, the other mahogany.
Its affliction was deafness—
plague of the white feline.
It could not hear thunder.

It had started to rain,
another flood coming on,
my father, as yours, deep in the pit,
my mother silent as plums.

What happened to that kitten?
Blind Ruby’s trailer ripped loose
when the branch leapt its bank.
Sycamores bent over the eddies. 

You whispered in my ear. Before that sentence,
there had been nobody.
At fourteen, we married.
As foretold, you went to the mines,

left Mondays the scullery saltbox
with your pail, and drove off for wages
underground in Fayette County.
Never you pressed me. Never I shied,

nor from the rag to scrub the black—
what you could not reach when,
after years in the pit, hunched,
you could only so far lift your arms.

Five months, now, I have not seen you,
save your smudged letters—
your closes in smoke:
My Darling. Coyotes weep

from the cliffs above the Gauley’s white water.
I plant every genus of dahlia,
emerald moss at the doorsill.
It is September 3rd, the anniversary

of my father’s death in Elkins Coalfield—
seven years now. Billings
meadow has not been threshed.
The buckeyes refuse to fall.

Queen Ann’s lace prospers.
Butterfly bushes grand as pipe organs.
Yesterday, on Agnes Ridge,
I saw an albino wooly worm—

auguring snow or manna, one.
Let me know you’re coming.
I will trek out to meet you
as far as Camden-on-Gauley.