Poetry / June 2015 (Issue 28)

Out of the Dark

by Kelly Cressio-Moeller

after "Coal Miner" by Liu Zheng from the series "The Chinese", gelatin silver print

The photograph says Xinjiang Province, 1996
but it could be anywhere, any time, any miner:
his father before him, his father before him.
Generations of strong-backed men mistrustful
of daylight, dead canaries at their feet.

He's up against a wall, where he's always been,
head cocked to the side looking down at the photographer
– a Chinese James Dean. A cigarette,
his first in twelve hours, sucked to the filter,
its long ash tipsy between lamp black fingers
with somehow immaculate nails
bright as polished shells. Nicotine
and black dust race for space in his lungs.

The sun falls sideways, highlights lip and lobe –
a dense shadow sleeps between helmet and head, his black halo.
He wears the mountain on his face:
chiseled dirty cheeks, sooty ridge of brow and mustache,
pores filled with the mine's permanent night. Even his lashes
look exhausted. Patient in his pocket, a numbered brass tag
to identify him when nothing else can.

At the end of every long shift,
when other men teem to the surface,
he follows several steps behind, turns off his lamp,
and walks the drift blind.
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