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Rose Hill Cemetery

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

                  

                Rose Hill Cemetery      
        
Black Diamond Mines, California

                      Miner’s Rest

Hello stranger.  I almost didn’t see you there –

perhaps it was your staring at the broke off base

where once my marker stood that caught my poor attention.

You see, I’ve rested here upon this hill since near

eighteen-seventy-five.  I was but thirty-five

when the mine collapsed far underground and sent me here.

It was quick enough, that sand-stone block crashing

on my chest, an instant’s crushing pain and then

my life swept up and trundled off like all those carts

of coal my eight years there had filled and trucked away.

I came from Wales in eighteen-sixty-five, brought to

this land by the promise of fortunes in gold – a man all

of twenty-five with fifteen years of digging English

coal until I yearned for more of life.  And so

I came, and so I found I was no good at seeking

gold.   And so I stood before a California

coal mine boss to state my case and pledge to do

what I knew best…digging out his veins of coal.

I earned my keep twelve hours a day, six days a week,

digging black carbon rock to stoke the fires

of my new land and build the towns that rose to serve

the miners here.  The towns were crude when I arrived,

but more miners came to take my place, and families

too.  I know because, later on, others came

to share this graveyard space and on mild Sunday days,

people came quite often just to sit and talk

of their late family, mates and friends.  Other days,

the winds that almost always blow would sing to us

and ripple green grass waves in Spring and harvest Summer

seeds to lie among the dry-brown thatch of Fall.

But then, sometime around nineteen hundred and five the mines

shut down and the towns closed up and almost seemed to blow

away.  Anchored here, I couldn’t leave to see

the world outside and couldn’t know why there was

no more need for coal or even why, later on,

they mined for sand or why again, in forty-five,

they stopped.  I could be wrong about the year, sometimes

I lose my sense of time as seasons pass bringing

change with only wind and rain and sun to touch

us here.  I didn’t even notice the toppling of

my stone, broke and carted off to where I just

don’t know, but not here anymore.  Others share

my fate and more, their markers gone with not a base

or line of brick to mark their meager turf.  Some

survived, the larger stones and others plucked upright

again, repaired, reset, bearing silent witness

of our fate once more.  The best preserved was set

last in nineteen-oh-five for someone coming back,

returning to lie with family and friends gone before,

remaining here still.  Don’t know I even knew him, being

early here.  Most came in between, like babes

and children from scarlet fever and women dead from bearing

young and men mostly from the mines caught

like me underground, crushed by broken stone

or drowned.  Lying here, together – each story caught

on silent lips – the only sounds are from the wind

on trees and grass, or birds at rest on fence and limb.

And upon occasion, the curious, like you,

who climb our hill to trod upon our weathered ground and wonder

if we are all that’s left of four million tons

of coal and more of sand taken from these hills. 

The towns are gone and even mines are underground

and out of sight, their miles of tunnels dark and cold

the same as us now sheltered here.  Sometimes I wish

that I could see the land beyond my fenced off plot.

But would I understand your world more than I

do those thin-white streaks of clouds that etch the skies

like wakes of ships at sea; or those horseless wagons

that sometimes come bearing men and tools to tend

our lonely ground?  No, Stranger, I think not.

Besides, it’s peaceful here with Spring come once again.

And birds yet sing their morning songs; and in the night,

the stars still chart their ancient course heavenward

while here I rest in God’s own grace and peace eternal.

             Laura

 

Did you just stumble on my last sandstone brick?

That one is all the still remains of those that John

set here to mark our resting place.  He brought one

or two each week, dug by his own strong hands

out of the sandstone core of the cold, dark underground.

He wanted me to be his wife, but my Pa would not

approve.  Pa knew a miner’s life was hard and said

that I should save myself, move on and find another.

If not for John, I might have gone, although I really

don’t know where.  Most women’s lot is to have kids

and raise them for their man.  And anywhere I might

have gone, my task would have been the same – besides

I liked John and he loved me (he told me so,

so many times).  With Mother gone, I had Pa’s

son and my two sisters yet to raise, so I

told John that we would have to wait.  That winter, when

the fever came, my brother and youngest sister took ill.

Pa had to work the mine, so I tended them

day and night.  It was harsh with so much else

to do, but I knew it would kill my Pa

to lose his only son so I did what I had

to do.  It was hard, but he and my sister survived.

I was so tired – that must by why I caught it then

and why it took me so fast.  I had no strength left

to fight it off and spent my last breath calling

John.  My Pa had nothing much to pay a proper

preacher, so John and him dug my grave and built

the box to put me in and laid me here among

the rest.  Each Sunday afternoon, John would come

to sit and talk about the week just past.  And he

would bring a stone from the mine, dug and shaped

by his own hand to mark a square for me and,

he said, for him.  It was hard to tell, but when

he left me there each Sunday, his step seemed lighter, his heart

less heavy.  Through spring, summer and early fall he came

until, in late November, he brought the double stone

to set up in our square.  On my side he had carved

my name, date of birth and date of death.  The other

side he carved his own name – reserved, he said, for later.

That winter it snowed a bit, but every Sunday he

was there and I would stir against his presence and bade

the wind to speak his name.  And then one Sunday nearing

spring, he came a final time.  They bore him up

beneath a bright warming sun and sky of frosted

blue and laid him down at my left hand.  And so

in death, we have lain together here as we

had not in life for near a hundred-twenty years.

 

 

John

 

Laura lies at my right hand – I insisted

that it be that way.  So when the mine caved in

and laid me out, they brought me here and put me down.

In truth, my heart was here already – my love possessed

of her.  And though my body walked and worked and prayed,

my mind was full of Laura’s soul.  Her father was

a miner too and wanted better for his girl,

but there weren’t many better here than us the worked

the veins of coal.  Five towns grew up within an hour’s

walk to house our folk, a company store and workmen’s

bars but not much else, for few would come so far

away from better places.  And so we’d meet on Sundays,

she young and fair and me not too much her elder

so that I could hope that she would someday be

my wife.  It was winter when the fever came

and medicines were scarce.  She burned her life away

saving her brother and youngest sister.  The last words

upon her lips, her father said, had been my name.

All were poor here abouts and I had little

to help her father out.  I cut her name into

a board and set it at her head to mark her grave.

Each Sunday I would come bearing a sandstone brick

from the mine that I had cut and shaped to place

upon the ground to mark what would be our square.

Then I would sit a speak awhile and share the news

as I had heard of all that happened in our towns…

a poor replacement for her life but all I had

to offer her.  Yet slowly I saved enough ‘til

finally I could buy a stone to proper mark

her resting place.  I brought it here and set it up

myself and finished marking out our square.  I must

have know what time I had – or else had held it off

so I could consecrate our space before the tunnel

ceiling fell.  And so we rest together now in death

as we had not in life.  Yet I am content,

Laura lying at my right hand side, awaiting

love’s renewal bright in God’s redeeming light.