500 feet below the ground, in a place we’ll never
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
remember the sound of those clicking cars in the
the rush of water when we turned the valves on,
how every joint held.
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
here again, to this five story building, to crawl
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.