Axis of Logic
Finding Clarity in the 21st Century Mediaplex

Workers & Labor
By Les Blough. Axis of Logic
Axis of Logic
Saturday, May 1, 2010


Your bones are long gone back to dust now.
Maybe even the durable patches of your brown
hair are now dissolved somewhere beneath
the rocks and dirt on the old Woodstown farm.

You pulled the shuttle cars under carbide lights
flickering off damp walls, low tubes gouged out
by blackfaced miners cutting carbon for
Hillman Coal & Coke. Maybe you even taught some
white-eyed workers who picked and blasted the
seams to throw off their harnesses like you did.

I loved you the first day you arrived. You taught
me that boys, like mine ponies, have power too,
just when I felt lost in a world of bosses. When
you used to quit your farmwork in midday, rearing
up like a wild western stallion, coming down with a
thud, feet planted like rocks in concrete, I was
awestruck with my power to rise up like you and
say to authority and systems, Ya Basta! Your
deliberate stepping across the traces taught me
subversion when head-on battles were not smart.

I staked you out in the best of grass, brought
you fresh water, curried your brown coat and
bedded you down on cold winter nights. Do you
remember how I saddled you up when we rode
through your old mining town, triumphant in
plain view of your former masters? Sure we had
to use the harness, pulling the 6 pronged
cultivator with me on your back and the old man
gripping, guiding the 2 handled contraption.

We tore the quack grass and thistles out of long
rows of corn that never seemed to end. Before
you, I sometimes pulled the damn thing myself.
But when you decided you had enough, mid-row,
you stopped and no curses or thrown stones
could make you move ... until you decided to
take out 2 rows galloping unshod and hell-bent
in our own Preakness, white wild eyes on the fence
at the hedgerow with a terrified boy on your back
but the terror left when I learned to fly with you

You’d clear that fence like a jumper in a british
steeplechase, leaving cultivator hung in the
barbwire and the old man cussing as we
outstripped the last flying stones. We rode the
freedom wind across the pastureland away to
the Miller farm thinking we'd never have to return
to the weight and labor of coal mines and farms.
Walk slowly down that long path, Bill. We’ll fly
again soon on new winds, without harness or bit.



A boy "pony-driver" with his pony in a coal mine.
The photo is dated 1911

A salute to Bill, my best friend when I was 10-12 years old. They thought Bill stubborn but they just didn’t understand that he simply knew that he and I were both born free. Bill was a mine pony, pulling mining cars laden with coal, day and night, through miles of tunnel out to a tipple where the cars were dumped into gondolas waiting for their loads 30 feet below. But the company bosses liberated Bill because they couldn’t tame his wild spirit, so my father bought him from the mines for twenty dollars. On our farm, Bill had a better life than the tens of thousands of mine ponies who were born, lived and died in the mines, many of them blind in the end due to a life in darkness. Sometimes the coal companies pounded their eyes out and sewed them shut to prevent eye infections from the coal dust. On our farm, Bill became a member of the family and harnessed up, he worked the land, pulling the cultivator between rows of corn and vegetables with me on his back and my father following behind. He cooperated in what he considered to be reasonable measure, but he never lost his ability to say “Ya Basta!” Bill and his compadres had a lot in common with today's workers.

- Les Blough, April 28, 2010

More Poems by Les Blough