The Ghosts of Ludlow, 1914-2014

A century of silence is violence.

*

That winter a blizzard, a cold that crawled over

the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and covered

the foothills with a crust of ice.

Everything whitened into bone.

The clothesline snapped like a branch.

A warning shot can be understood in

any language. The entrance to the coalmine dropped

open like the mouth of a skull without eyeholes.

*

Mining folk felt safest underground.

The pits were for protection from the chill

that had stretched into the spring. The pits

were for protection from the wind that kept the walls

of each tent shivering all night.

The pits were for protection.

*

And somehow the kettle still sang,

its burst of steam a prized distraction

inside the deadness of the tent.

In the moment it was the thing

with most life. It filled the small space

with breath—an exhale so far away

from the hour it would take

the first bullet in its lung.

*

The horses crushed the quiet.

Their nostrils flared and suddenly

they looked quite human

in their rage. One foot sunk its hoof

into the face of a doll—an act

so cruel it had to have been deliberate.

The baby limbs stretched out in shock.

No mouth, no throat—no sound.

The horse shook its tail like a shrug.

*

Few things gathered the bodies

in the camp—a game of baseball,

a marriage, a christening, a strike.

And war, which darkened the light

in the tents, shadow upon shadow.

The soldiers first, then the smoke,

and then the fall of

a smothering sky.

The pits, so womb-like, a refuge

for the lambs while the wolf

devoured the tents, so sheep-like in their

whiteness, so sheep-like in their bleating.

*

The pits were for protection.

*

One evening the cook was making stew

in the cauldron. A witch’s brew, said

the children who dared themselves

to come near enough to toss

a pebble of coal in the pot.

The rocks bounced off the bellies

of both cauldron and cook. The man cursed,

which only made the children giggle.

He chased them with the spoon.

It made them laugh some more.

To teach a lesson, he grabbed a rabbit

by the ears. It kicked and splashed as he

submerged it under boiling water.

He trapped it with the lid.

The children screamed in terror,

imagining the bunny swimming

through the scalding soup

only to reach scalding metal.

*

Grief for a dead child sounds the same

in Greek or Italian or Spanish. Grief

for eleven children has no language,

only numbness—

*

it hardens even the land.

Fires dissipated. Battles ended.

The miners rolled their stories up

and left the town of Ludlow, 100 years

empty except for an abandoned row

of shacks. Near the baseball diamond, a

memorial as neglected as the playing field.

A memorial rings hollow—it’s for the solace

of the living. To reach the dead

walk to the structures still standing,

their windows still looking in.

Listen closely for the ghost of a woman

tucking into bed the ghost of her son.

Lean in. That blank sound you hear?

The weight of the ghost of her kiss

as it passes through his head—

the collapse of absence into absence.

Originally published in first Newton Literary Journal

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