The Coal Miner’s Dirge

It was summer when they found him,

And he still knew how to grin,
“Come and work and sing with us”
That is how these things begin.
And at first the work was pleasant
Working hard and hardly sore
But that day has come and come again
When he wanted to say more
For his friend was bright and cheerful too
Buried under miles of coal
And the lie that made it bearable
Was was the profit to his soul
And another who was old and grey
Coughing big black globs of goo
And the lie that made it bearable
Was “he chose to work there too”
But the loudest lie of aching soul
As he shoveled through the clay
Was the way they made him cover up
And they paid him not to say
For the man was bright and clever,
And a useful sort of chap
Bright mind for sorting numbers,
Bright mind for setting traps
Not traps to kill men instantly
Tell me, where is gold in that?
But traps that killed them shamelessly
From the negligence and draft
And ways to turn a profit
And to round out boys and dimes
As the fellas toiled on fearlessly
And his silence was his crime
And the working stole his soul away,
And the silence stole his joy
And the lie that made it bearable?
“I am silent for my boy.”
But one day he came home sheepishly
As he struggled to make sense
Of his aching sense of dignity
And his mischief to his friends
And that day turned brightly crimson,
When his eldest turned to say,
“I will work with you tomorrow,
I am old enough today!”
And then what oh what, I ask you
Could his bright and good heart do?
Could his silence hold the bloodshed
Would his son be buried too?
It was autumn when he said it,
Said it clear and said it grim
“Men,” he said, “it’s time we strike”
And the men, they stood with him
Stood and watched that is, they watched
As the scabs all broke the line
Working hard and hardly sore
And they whistled as they mined
But the man could not be silent,
And his fury did not dim
And his clever mind and bitter whit
Made him strong enough to win
It was winter when he wrote it
Bound it tight with miners twine
Sent it off to be a book
Sealed in black a dying mine
And some say his hairs grew whiter,
And some say his ears grew dim
And they said it was his anger
And his selfish way to win
But then win he did,
In a sorry sort of way
For the trying times could roll no dimes
And it all shut up one day
It was springtime when they found him
With an arrow through his heart
And a note in blood attached to it
“Thanks a lot, you bloody lark!”
And his son was crimson bitter
For the way his old man died
And his friends they turned to mourners
And his widow wailed and pined
But that message that he spoke that day
Bound with twine and inked in truth
Sent an arrow to their dragon heart
For his sacrifice was proof
And in time the story changes
From a martyr to a friend
And his son took up the banner
And the workers made an end
Of a tyrant of silence
Overcheerful ever gay
Of the dark and ill-found riches,
Of their narrow, crafty ways
It was summer when he found himself
And he knew his dad not dead
Beat within him, speaking through him
As with flaming heart he said:
“No lie could make it bearable
To suffer on in dread
Be the man and break the silence
Tremble not but write instead!”
Tremble not,
but write.
Instead…