A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
Mining 500 feet below the ground, in a place we’ll never see again, We sweat water lines, pipe in bathrooms and showers for miners. I shine torch flames to light my way out of a ceiling, lined with mottled rock, and down dug out tunnels of stone. They haven’t bothered painting the walls, because they’ll bulldoze everything we’ve done. Every faucet handle and shower head, the dizzying maze of copper lines, every offset drain, snaking through walls and floors, carrying the days of our exhaustion, the arthritis in our knees, and all the beers we can throw back in six weeks to numb the pain of our breaking. No one ever said we’d be leaving the ghosts of our bodies here, in Ace’s bar, in the 60 hour work weeks, in the slow walks through the mud to our trucks. They’ll bury us, after the miners have laid bare the earth, cleaned the coal under the mountain we drive down, swing wrecking balls into the men’s and women’s rooms, caving in break rooms, and bunk beds, and the extension ladder staircase. We’ll keep the black air we’ve breathed and the memory loss, remember the sound of those clicking cars in the darkness, the rush of water when we turned the valves on, how every joint held.
-- The Fluttering I’m stumbling out of the dark and back down again, winding out of the rutted valleys of the Mon, ass crack of the world and broken roads, past AJ’s Crane and the hundred other rusted necks reaching for a sky I never wanted to know, exhaust blowing fog into a morning the shade of bruise and regret, passing lane headlights flashing slow like tired ghosts. No one here will ever say they never wanted this life, only this flare of sore wrists, the years of twisting pipes, diving into the dark of underneath, of bleakness. In every way, this is an act of disappearance, but this muted morning, the men from local 27 are chatting about the weatherwoman’s breasts, while outside, the air is losing its memory, a rash of embers, flaming lights around the corner by Irwin Iron where steel is burning, and the men there breathe it in. But today, I’ve made it here again, to this five story building, to crawl under another dirty sink, into the wrecks of leaks, in ceilings where confetti of rust rains into my eyes. We’re all one day closer, the 64 year old plumber tells me. And I think about my father, the same age as me and a year away from his last heart attack. The fast flutter in the center of my chest as I stand atop a ladder, peer into the dark above a wet wall, click my flashlight on.
Robert Walicki is a poet and licensed plumber who lives in Pittsburgh. His latest collection of poems Fountain is currently available from Main Street Rag Press.
Copyright 2020 Robert Walicki