by Karen Luke Jackson
Fresh out of high school, a novice in a shortened habit
scoured remote hollers, visited coal camps, argued scrip
was little more than slave wages if miners could only spend it
at the company store, accompanied a teen-age mother
to DC to testify about hunger. One night, on call in those coves,
she rounded a curve as rocks avalanched onto the road.
Boulders would have crushed her
had she not braked, swerved.
Fifty years later, no longer a nun, this grandmother
points out roadside tipples, some abandoned, others groaning.
She protests machines ripping open seams
in a field named Pocahontas. Ridges, more mesa
than mountain top, loom as locomotives
heaped with Wise County coal—blasted chunks
of ancient sunshine—snake through a tunneled gorge;
their load, scabs of black gold, to warm fine new homes.