They craved a cloistered bounty. Exhumed this great wonder
of our industrial age, set their skill to drift and shaft, blinked
their way to wealth through an opening of dusky adit eyes.
They made a history of wheels that carried even children to hell
in a cage. The gouged seams bled with gas, damped with choke
and blistered with sudden flame. Deep and dark below,
they made an offer of birds to the altar of coal and pure blooms
of song withered inside the tightening of little yellow throats.
A strange forest of dead-wood props grew underground to brace
the busy warrens against collapse. Pick and hew, blast and hack,
the tunnels stank of oil and sweat, rang with sounds of iron on rock,
of call and curse, the patient clopping of cinder-shrouded hooves.
They emptied the ground, raised blights of slag and shovelled
parures of sooty jewels into the steamy bowels of locomotion,
into furnaces, under crucibles swum with a blaze of drowned ore –
into hearth and home. They built a spoiled world upon this trenching
of fossil lodes. The Earth will break beneath this weight of smog
and still they mine a coffin of slack, scrape at nature’s layers
of flower and grass. Still they pare the rise-and-falling domes of land
that arch the sky like breaching whales, flense the rich wonder of soil,
refuse to let the poisonous skeins of past times lie. The carbon veins
flow with dirt and death, have claimed and cost, have always
harboured bones. Ghosts echo the underground. The scavenged crypts
have kept their last fear, last words, last cry, last breath.