Thursday, August 23, 2012

Christine Orchanian Adler: Mine

The year my dad’s back
gave out, Doc Hadden read the tests
and sighed, “black lung” while mother
stood apron clad with hanky-pressed mouth,

dry eyed. Some months later came
her call, a blinking light left, found
upon my tired return from
a medical research cram.

I pulled the indexed notes, stacked
so neatly in my bag and sat,
listened to her words and flipped
through detail-crowded cards,

each a meticulous list
of disease and lethal symptoms.
I’d read their names, drop my eyes
test myself: Scrofula: tubercular

infection; impacts throat lymph glands.
At twenty, he’d followed his father
into the seams, ceilings dripping water. He’d lie
in mud, supine, nineteen working inches

lit only by his miner’s lamp.
Yaws: chronic, relapsing infectious
illness; spirochete caused; cannot penetrate
skin. Influenza: virus; changes by mutation.

The day he told me the story of Macbeth,
the mine that blew a dark March day
and took his father’s life, I knew the chain
would break. Pneumoconiosis: also known

as black lung disease; two forms—
simple and progressive massive fibrosis.
Miners who’d once gone below
in dark of early morning trudged

over those same entries bearing
stretchers, mangled corpses of family men.
He’d rushed the vast black cavity of Macbeth
Mine that day, stood among the town waiting.

They’d remain long, dark days, edge
the mine’s mouth while rain poured down,
a town of immobile kin. The mournful
cable whine brought them to the surface

body after body

but the screams of widows rising
at each man’s recognition haunt
my father still. “It’s all we knew.”
He shrugged his burly shoulders, pointed

his eyes downward when I made
medical school my goal
instead of coal. “It’s over,”
her voice fell flatly in the room.

Cards fluttered to the floor
while I sat, eyes down understanding
that the only life I’d saved
by breaking the chain was mine.

This poem has appeared in Coal: A Poetry Anthology, and is reprinted by kind permission of the author.

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