For the Coal Miners

Ok, ok, already. Nat King Cole,
Billy Holiday, Mona Lisa: take everything away I love, but do not remove the coal miners.

It’d be like banning garbage collection.
It’s too much change. Go ahead: end NASA.
Bring the astronauts back, but don’t force the miners to come up for air.

We need them right where they are.
Let them stay underground. It makes
us feel better. They give us liberty; their presence down there makes being here better.

There’s a lot more to it than rocks, Mr. President.
The people will do just fine without men and women in orbit, but we can’t live without knowing men are digging beneath the surface.

Just ask D.H. Lawrence. Could you live another minute without “Sons and Lovers”? His father was a miner and his mother, a school teacher. Have you heard that somewhere before? It’s mythological. It’s Adam and Eve, I’m telling you.

If heterosexuality means anything, the answer is to be found in the coal miner and his future widow. Beauty and the beast.
It’s the architecture of hope and despair.
Do you think the Chinese will ever stop digging?

If we stop now, we’ll never get to the center of the earth.
Have you ever met a miner who wasn’t a poet?
If we close the mines, we’ll kill country music. We’ll make Johnny Cash obsolete. Dolly Parton will die.

It’d be like having dinner without Coca-Cola. Well… I could do without the soda, but not without the miners. There’s no English literature without coal miners. We are a luck society, and where else to learn of luck if not from a coal miner?

There isn’t a day goes by without miners somewhere being buried in rubble. Their widows function as modern society’s last Greek chorus. Without them, we are on our own.
Our tragedy would become forgotten melodrama.

Paradise Is Demanding

It must be thrilling to know everything.
Girls used to be so full of doubt but now they say, sure I’m sure. I say 1970, she says Nixon bombed Cambodia.
When I was a kid I found a brontosaurus under my corn flakes.
Today I get all of world history at the end of my tootsie pop.

The bodies, you cry. The dead bodies in the lobby.
Why can’t I reply, my mother’s violets in the window box remind me of tiny flamethrowers.
The poor don’t need money. It’s the rich who are always short.

Everywhere I go, I’m an unknown quantity.
Why do you invade my territory?
They bring me hot dogs when I order origami.
In China they begged me to stay, but here, why won’t you go?

Don’t ask, how are you? It’s an intimate question.
I think it is privacy and so do you, but here it’s a matter of public policy.
Infants wear reading glasses to mommy and baby English classes.
You are in another country

when students dance into class wearing chiffon tutus.
They hide their hair in green.
One student’s yellow toenails match his glasses; another’s braces are as sparkling as her tiara.

On trains, the girls don’t keep their legs together. One sees bandaged knees and little hands spreading skin cream.
The Santa Barbara coffee shop in Roppongi brews no coffee; it serves poached eggs on a bed of lettuce.

Paradise is demanding.
The bodies pile up to my Adam’s apple.
My daughter’s into cranes and pandas.
Are we punished for ignoring corpses?

Must I feed the neighbors, take care of tornadoes, split the atom, and make ice cubes?
I can barely add 2+2. I can’t remember to change my socks.
Last week I lost the Empire State Building.

I want my teddy bear.
Can’t I like pandas, too?
Thou shalt not kill.
Is that not enough for you?

The busker asks for what’s left over.
Must I share?
I have lots to spare but none for you.
Why can’t I say that?

 

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previously published in Cecile’s Writers (Netherlands)