- The Coal Miner’s Wife:A Letter
(after Ezra Pound’s adaptation, from the Chinese, of Li Po’s “The River-Merchant’s Wife, A Letter”) “Southern women have alabaster skin.”—Li Po
We were from the same town, Cowen,along the Gauley, WebsterCounty—church, twice of Sunday,Wednesday evening prayer meeting.
I swore to every whit of it.Hair chopped in bangs across my brow,I played in moon flowersand Bleeding Hearts.
Subterranean even as a boy,feats were nothing to you.You crawled the culvertpipe to save Blind Ruby’s kitten,
one eye blue, the other mahogany.Its affliction was deafness—plague of the white feline.It could not hear thunder.
It had started to rain,another flood coming on,my father, as yours, deep in the pit,my mother silent as plums.
What happened to that kitten?Blind Ruby’s trailer ripped loosewhen the branch leapt its bank.Sycamores bent over the eddies. [End Page 138]
You whispered in my ear. Before that sentence,there had been nobody.At fourteen, we married.As foretold, you went to the mines,
left Mondays the scullery saltboxwith your pail, and drove off for wagesunderground in Fayette County.Never you pressed me. Never I shied,
nor from the rag to scrub the black—what you could not reach when,after years in the pit, hunched,you could only so far lift your arms.
Five months, now, I have not seen you,save your smudged letters—your closes in smoke:My Darling. Coyotes weep
from the cliffs above the Gauley’s white water.I plant every genus of dahlia,emerald moss at the doorsill.It is September 3rd, the anniversary
of my father’s death in Elkins Coalfield—seven years now.Billings meadow has not been threshed.The buckeyes refuse to fall.
Queen Ann’s lace prospers.Butterfly bushes grand as pipe organs.Yesterday, on Agnes Ridge,I saw an albino wooly worm—
auguring snow or manna, one.Let me know you’re coming.I will trek out to meet youas far as Camden-on-Gauley. [End Page 139]
Joseph Bathanti is former Poet Laureate of North Carolina. He is the author of eight books of poetry, two novels, and a book of stories. Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, winner of the 2012 Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction, was just released by Mercer University Press. A new novel, The Life of the World to Come, is forthcoming from University of South Carolina Press. Bathanti teaches at Appalachian State University.