— David Davies
A mile and a half of industrial darkness,
borne by the hill.
The men who died here left no ghosts,
their bones already bleached by the owners.
Black in their lungs, the blast dust
took most of them before thirty-five.
The boys, too young to sink-bore the pit,
picked specks of stone unless, in answer to
a winter prayer, the water froze.
But mostly it flowed, filling their fathers’ boots
as it soaked in from below.
Did they really name you Killhope?
The death of hope, the murder of it,
when this horizontal hole brought forth
the bounties on which the village was built.
Lead mining. Toxic in its extraction,
toxic in its ingestion, priceless.
On the roofs of churches in which you sat.
Or maybe slate around here; cheaper.
From the pit to ground level,
up to the chapel rooftops and
onward to heaven. A noble progression for anyone.
Maybe. Maybe slow death was as acceptable as any,
a shrinkage rather than a curtailing
although that certainly happened as well.
The spark from the tamping rod
because copper was too expensive.
An early ignition. A cave-in.
A bright flash in the darkness and then darkness.
Now we pay our money to walk in the same darkness
and wade in the same water flowing out of the hill.
It’s almost vulgar. And yet.
And yet the place is a monument, as is
the learning of the lives and histories.
The families. The miner rescued,
alive because he ate his tallow candle
and stood on the wood of the shaft for three days.
Three nights down here. A miracle!
Right to celebrate, as we commend
our own return to the outside light
after only an hour—maybe less—
to find the sun setting behind the hollowed hills
and on an industrial land
damaged in equal by its presence and removal.