from 1937 ad by climax molybdenum co.
. . . better loving
. . . through improved tensile
strength, ductility, and
by Ellen Wade Beals
Beer scum slag of milled ore
on the floor of
where men crave sunshine
in dank, tight spaces. Shift
over, these smudged grubs make
up for loss, gulping air, light,
beer, the behind-the-ear
musk of any girl just pretty enough.
Leadville, town with a heart of molybdenum,
made the introductions. They met at the bakery;
she was powdered with flour. They ate
cookies among the moneyed aspen,
air thin as an old woman’s handkerchief.
* * *
Despite the upheaval of lung slugs
and the clank of bed rail and puke dish,
he recalls going down, under
. Red Mountain
Sometimes he wouldn’t wash
and her smell would be with him,
on his beard. Now he’s bald and ashen
from 20 years of mines, Pall Malls, and reefer.
The crescent scar, where his chin met a drill bit,
smiles down and she wonders whether
she imagined him nod. Amid the shuffle
of soles on linoleum, his cough tries again
to find itself, weak as mountain air.
* * *
Something crinkles in the couch
cushion. She retrieves the pack of smokes,
hidden after his diagnosis, the gold
cellophane to mark her place in A Pocket Full
. Her gnarled feet on the cocktail
stocking seam pulled, they stare at her
like two old comedians.
Amid a wheeze of expiration, she wonders
had Agatha Christie ever loved,
rock for pillow, moss blanket,
the moon his miner’s light.
* * *
Pneumatic breathing from another room
provides the score as you
complete the family health history,
checking diseases that apply: cancer, emphysema,
naiveté. Now imagine mining:
First pick with all your weight behind you.
Wedge the crack. Place caps strategically.
Blow. Squeezed in your hand is pyrite, fool’s gold,
good luck charm since sixth grade,
a nugget big as a turkey heart,
you hope to feel the pulse of stone.
~ first published in Halogen (2000)