Afterdamp

Carbon, Alberta: 1921

1. Gallagher

this morning like every morning they wake up

and look each other in the eye: Jack Gallagher

steps out into sunlight clean and fresh as gin

looks across at his coal mine, and the coal mine says

Good morning, Mr. Gallagher, and he says, Good morning

and that’s how they begin

 

Gallagher stands outside his shack with the morning

pouring over the top of the valley and he looks at his mine

and he shaves, a finger and thumb at his throat

while his other hand pulls the silver flash of razor across

his gullet until the skin is red and raw, and there’s his mine

no need for a mirror, just facing that great machine

 

of buildings, their cedar-shingled roofs and clapboard

all diamond-bright in the sun, the full clean face of boiler room

and engine room and storage sheds set solid on the rolling hips

and shoulders of the valley: his charms

and her dark, hidden treasure

 

and right up front, kicking high into the western sky

the tower with a whisky drinker’s name: the tipple

its wooden body broad as a prairie whale, its belly full

of nuggets of coal, fist-sized, nut-sized—any size you want ’em

 

and Gallagher shaves, and the bristles seed the wind like dandelions

until he’s done and he smiles with his skin stripped clean

and the mine smiles back and the reflection is good and true

and he knows all’s right with this world anyway

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