Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Dark Earth


By John McGrath

I can hear the squish and squelch of my father’s slane
as he sinks the sharp blade into the black peat.
He dips and lifts, loops the slippery sod
in my direction. I move with its weight to steer it
to a spot next to its kin, where sun and wind
will work their yearly miracle. My father
hums softly as he bends and lifts again.

At Cinder Hill I swing my pick. No humming here,
only men’s profanity and the ring of steel on coal.
Dust clogs the air and stifles breathing. Sweat blinds.
I share my snap with Jim. Cold water slakes our thirst.
He talks of Calgary his home, oilfields, easy pickings,
six months’ hard work and six months living free.
I’m nearly twenty-five and life is calling me.

Phyllis finally says yes. We haul our trailer north,
roll from rig to rig, following the work. Three good years,
then back to Canmore, down the pit once more.
Like my father before me, I probe the dark earth
until the mine shuts down in Seventy-nine. Phyllis,
by my side, gives me hope and home. We take
things easy now; watch the boys play hockey.

I ride my mountain bike beside Bow Valley Trail.
High above, the towering Rockies, Three Sisters
smiling down. I smile right back; Canada’s been good to me.
No easy pickings here, just steady work and steadfast company.
Sixty years this land has been my home. But now and then
I can still hear the squish and squelch of my father’s slane
as he sinks the sharp blade into the black peat.

©March 2015 John McGrath

Note: Slane – Irish Turf-spade
Cinder Hill – Nottinghamshire Coalmine

                                  Author Note:

Here is one of two poems about my uncles, wanderers both.

My twin uncles Paddy and Austin were both raised in our tiny
cottage in Cullatinny a generation before me. They had little in
the way of formal education and farmed a few meager acres with
my grandfather before emigrating (around 1950), first to England and
then across the Atlantic, Austin to Alberta and Paddy to New York.

Paddy was drafted almost as soon as he arrived in the U.S. and did
one tour of duty in Korea and three in Vietnam. He completed his
education before leaving the army and went on to spend over 20 years
as a Highways Supervisor in the Colorado Rockies, not
far from Pike’s Peak. He is buried in Montrose, Colorado.

Austin worked in the coal mines in Nottinghamshire before heading
for Alberta intending to work in the Canadian oilfields. He
found digs in Canmore and fell in love with his landlady’s daughter,
Phyllis. Soon they were married and together they headed for where
the money and work took them. Oil was the new gold and they were
right there in the thick of it! Family tragedy brought them back to
Canmore however, and there they stayed. Austin went back
to coal mining and rose to the position of Mine Manager
before retiring.

I would have been about 2 years old when they left Ireland and only
knew of them as I grew up through the stories my neighbours
told of my legendary 6-feet-tall uncles! They would have
remained legends had I not had the good fortune however
to meet with each of them again in their later years. This poem and
"From Mayo to Montrose – Closing the Circle" are my gift
to them and part of our shared legacy.

Click on the author's byline for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.
This issue appears in the ezine at www.pencilstubs.com and also in the blog www.pencilstubs.net with the capability of adding comments at the latter.

No comments:

Post a Comment