The Death of the Pits

A day to both mourn and celebrate.


I grew up in a mining town. My grandfather hated going down the pits so much he swore he'd do anything to save his sons from the same fate. In the end my dad's older brother became a miner, and lost his hearing and his lungs to the job.
My dad went up the way instead, and became a slater. At least he had the skies to look at, even if he often got soaked and frozen.

The following poems are from my third collection, Graffiti in Red Lipstick, and are dedicated to my grandfather, and my great-grandfather who was also a miner. I never met my grandfather. He died the year I was born. Both he and my uncle loved their gardens more than anything.


Miners' Daughters

Our hair is honey blond and styled,
our clothes are well-made, warm,
and on our fingers gold rings shine.

But in the memory of our bones
rickets lurks like an ache
and our lungs still recall
the hacking coughs 
of grandfathers we never met.

At night in the dark pit of our dreams
we are down on our knees
tunneling, chipping
at the hard black face of the future

and even as we sit, well-groomed,
sipping cocktails in this posh hotel
there is a trace of coal dust
beneath our polished fingernails.

black heat - a sequence

pit wheel

slowly turning

black-spoked giant

from the mineshaft of memory
you draw a smiling child

waiting at the pit-head gate

miner

he did not have a garden
just a plot, to grow a functional crop
carrots, leeks, potatoes

but always he kept a corner
where he cultivated flowers
to feed his soul
after a twelve hour shift
of eating into darkness

lousing time

bursting from the cage
black creatures
frightening
until they smiled
white teeth human

the miners’ perk

coal castles dumped
for dirty wee rascals
to be kings on

coal

burning in the grate
wind howling in the lum
we saw castles, dungeons
fire-breathing dragons

our parents saw money
going up in smoke
and worried lest winter
last too long
bings
once they peaked like witches’ hats
brooding, dark, they shadowed us
as we skipped to park and school

but today?

shrunken sugar loaf plateaux
sparkling white with last night’s snow



Comments

Stooshie said…
Like these Magi. I was maybe a wee bit closer generationally to the miners. Some of my cousins worked down the Barony & Killoch, one cousin was Ayrshire secretary of the NUM in the strike, another organised flying pickets (the Monday Club). 3 of my uncles worked in the pits, & my two grandpas as well. It was a horrible job set against the background of amazing communities who produced amazing & memorable folk, & some of that's still relict today.
magi gibson said…
Yes, my grandfather was 85 when I was born. He hated working down the pits. It certainly didn't do ma wee uncle's health any good, He spent all his spare time in his garden. I loved the town I grew up in, and realise I owe it so much for instilling in me a strong sense of community. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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