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thoughts of a kentucky miner (1936) Editors’ Note: This short story first appeared in 1936 in Mountain Life and Work, the magazine of the Council of the Southern Mountains, an organization that, from 1913 until the 1980s, brought together professionals and community workers in the Mountain South region. The story was later reprinted in West’s collection In a Land of Plenty (1982). According to West: “When I wrote it I had been in a Kentucky jail for several weeks. I used the pen name because I knew the magazine would print nothing under my name then.” Although the editors in 1936 were not sympathetic toWest or his work on behalf of the National Miner’s Union, he did subsequently publish poems and articles under his own name there. Lame Shoat Gap looks like an old house sunk upside down in the mountain. Smears of dawn daub the east, filter through murky fog, and rest above Dark Hollow. Scrub oak bushes are silhouettes on the rock cliffs; look like corn shucks full of sausages hanging from the rafters.Everything is quiet,like a farm before roosters start crowing. Down below, Dark Hollow lies snoring. Huge folds of dusk wrap her up in black blankets.Here and there lights flicker out from a miner’s shack,like spikes of gold half-hammered into the dark. Dark Hollow’s where we live. It’s just like the name. Darkness loves that hollow; comes early and stays late. We slope downward on the other side of Lame Shoat, trudge along to the creek trace; then start up Razor Back to Greasy Gap and down to the mines. Brown beech leaves carpet the dirt. They hide rocks and dead limbs.We stumble .The leaves rustle apart and back together like ripples on a mill pond.Withy beech limbs claw at our faces. They slap and sting with the sharp December morning.Carbide lights sputter.A sudden breeze snatches the blaze and is gone. We are six brothers, all six feet. Never been to school. We just know the strength of six feet of muscles. Our shoulders are bent, hunched forward as if trying to fend a blow.When we walk our long arms dangle down ’most to the knee.We are not as good to look at as we used to be.We mine coal. Miles back into the bowels of the mountain we burrow, like a wild animal clawing its hole 01.Prose.1-blnk 96/West 12/2/03, 11:48 AM 36 selected prose 37 for hibernation. Our days are lived in the dark, bent in a strained crouch like you’ve seen a football team before the kickoff.Our heads set well back between the shoulders; necks bent sort of like a goose-necked hoe. That makes a large Adam’s apple. Our eyes curve upward as if we study the weather. The mine is full of treacherous horse-backs—slate flakes that drop without warning.They leave a hole the shape of a horse’s back, and crush whatever they fall on.We’re always looking upward. We are sleepy. Getting up at three o’clock every morning, tramping over Lame Shoat to the mines, is tough. Even for muscles like seasoned hickory, warped in the sun. We’ve done this since we were big enough to lift a chunk of black coal. We are a solemn group. Never know what to expect next. Maybe a gas explosion . Maybe a horse-back. One brother is minus an arm.A horse-back got him. Knocked his carbide light out. He was working in an isolated room. For half a day he lay there in the dark with half a ton of slate rock crushing his arm. We missed him at night and went a-looking. His arm was ground up in a bloody mess. We managed to drag him out to the drift mouth.32 The doctor was gone. The arm stayed that way till next day. But he loads ten tons of black coal now. He loads ten tons with the one long arm. Mostly we stumble on toward the mines in silence. Now and then a limb slaps back. One curses. Another grunts. His foot plunges into a hole.A round rock turns an ankle. One falls and grabs with his hands.We slide down bluffs, catch slim hickory saplings to hold us back.Dark traces across the mountains, worn by stumbling feet.Dark entry,jet as the...


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