A friend mailed me a picture of her father who was a Kentucky Coal Miner. He lies on his side, on the left side of the picture, two other men beside him, the one in the middle squatting. Their heads touch the ceiling. The back of the picture fades away into the inky blackness of their subterranean world.
The faces of the men are interchangeable, the features blurred by the abrasive blackness that coats them. Their eyes are spots of lightness.
One mile under the earth, his face black with coal dust. Coal dust that lingers in his mouth and spirals down his throat, settling into his lungs. With every breath he takes.
Still, every morning, as the sun is coming up he descends into darkness. And he gets paid for his sweat and tears, for his dashed dreams and the promises he had made to his youthful self. He gets paid to feed the wife he loves even as they fight when he goes into town to drink and dance. Do the faces of his six children flash in front of his eyes? You know, as he hunkers down because he has to and positions his pickaxe and finds the black gold that fuels the engine of the economy?
Or is it easier to just forget it all. To make the mind a blank canvas that extends no further than the semi-circle of illumination cast by the lamp in his helmet. Does anything make it easier? What men must do to feed their families.
Today, one anonymous day in 1958, he lies on his side and looks straight into the camera, held by someone unknown, and lets his eyes and his soul do the talking. "Who am I?" his eyes ask. "I live here, underneath this coal dust, under the bravado, here I am," says his soul. Who is he speaking to?