Poetry and Arts

Blast Mat

The blast mat was made of old tires,
cut in half and strung on steel cable,
all those trips—to Iowa, the grocery,
the hospital, and orchard in the fall—
cinched together like a bracelet of travel,
and the bracelets, six of them,
were joined with more cable to make the mat.
It took a crane to lift the thing
We had to drill into the rock,
dog-work with the pneumatic drill,
first the four-foot bit, then the six,
then the eight, grinding the hole deeper in to the rock.
You could taste the chalk of the rock dust.
We threaded sticks of dynamite
into the holes, the last one with a blasting cap
and then the frilly wires to the detonator.
The crane operator would drape the mat
over the rock like a blanket on a bed:
with the thump of the blast the mat jumped
but held down the shards and chips,
not much of a fireworks payoff after all that drilling.
But one day the foreman had to go bid a job
and we drilled and loaded the holes.
We were blasting out a foundation
for a house at the lake.
A blistering day and we’d worn
bandanas bandit-style to not breathe the dust,
and when we were ready,
we said, what the hell, no mat, forget it.
We crimped the wires to the detonator
and got behind some trees.
When it went, we heard the shrapnel
nicking the trees and one chunk
the size of suitcase hurtled
in almost slow-motion catapult
toward a sailboat moored on the lake.
A direct hit would sink the boat sure,
but it ca-choomed to the right side,
water spouting up four or five feet
and all of us releasing the breath we’d held.
A couple came from below deck,
scrambling up, waving and shouting,
and Bill, who most wanted payoff after labor,
shouted back. “Wake up. Wake the hell up.”


Reprinted with permission from Living Wages (Tupelo Press, 2014). Copyright 2014 by Michael Chitwood.