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Coal Sarcophagus/William Haas

I don't usually care for prose-poems but there are, of course, some masterpieces. (Rimbaud, par example). But I have been really enjoying the riches of the Dark Mountain project and this poem by the Portland poet, William Haas, (in issue 2 from 2011) really jumped out and grabbed me by the throat.


It was actually the first two sentences that did it. No matter how often I read them, I can't work out why they seem so sonically mirrored. All my usual phonetic parsing can figure out the music.


And then the last paragraph is just wonderful. Again full of sonic treats in service to a time-travelling magic.



A backdraft fed the fire down the coal chute and incinerated two miners. The black air backfilled the mine shafts and clogged the men's sinuses. The survivors hung a nylon tarp to protect their oxygen. They huddled in that hutch, broken-legged and coughing black blood, talk of families frittering away the remaining air. Before the headlamps' batteries died, the walls glared yellow-white, as if behind them shone a bright and everlasting light.


By the time the miners were recovered, the black dust had settled and their bodies appeared to be formed in rock and known by God forever. The sole survivor was an onyx statue. His breath rippled the channels of mucus that cut the soot beneath his nose and dribbled around his mouth. A week-long special on cable news, he was forgotten in recovery. He stopped speaking and no longer paid his electric bill. Near the creek behind his trailer, he dug a hole.


Night falls. He crawls into the grave and dusts himself with dirt. Each finger a taproot, he reaches through the earth past potato bugs, night crawlers and boll weevils. He fractures sandstone and splits shale before alighting on a seam of coal. If time respools over millions of years, the layers lift and the sellable seacoal decompresses into fauna and flora. Cyclads and ferns untip, take root and tower into the air. Mammal, reptile and dinosaur carcasses shiver to life, unsplash from the swamp and forage for food. Water ripples into mosquitoes' wings and across the legs of dead millipedes. Life encroaches on death, and the sun is an engine of combustion not yet stored in flammable stone. The next morning he awakens rooted in the humus. No one remains to dig him out.

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