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,
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