What if the Ina poems could be a crown of sonnets? What if they could?
Admittedly she was drunk at the time but not
as drunk as he was, drunk and deep into
his favorite litany—It just ain’t natural. It just ain’t right.
No woman could handle going down. No female could—
but a drunken vow is still a vow and she’d
rebelled against her uncle’s Rules for Girls
since she first could clasp an axe. She made a list
of 1000 questions and hunted answers as she
hunted quail, flushing out the game and snagging
everything in reach. She asked every woman she met
and every man who’d talk to her to tell her anything
about the mines. She took meticulous notes. No one
bothered to question her scribbling for Ina had always
been a queer child, too headstrong for a girl.
Knowledge gained, Ina sets forth
She was headstrong, and a girl, so finding what she’d need
was easy but gathering them— well, she wasn’t afraid of work. Overalls
she had over Mom’s ornery complaining. They’d be ruined and if she failed
there’d be no money for more. But cards near always fell Ina’s way, with liquor
to help her luck along. Uncle Eddie wouldn’t take to losing to
a girl, he’d keep upping the ante, so patience and whiskey would again
get Ina what she wanted. No sober miner would ever be one-upped into putting
his flint much less his carbide on the table but Eddie was not near the first
to part with his pride this way. Offering his hat double-or-nothing for the light
was not a big risk for a desperate, cocksure man and Ina
was used to dealing with cocksure desperate men. When a puff of a boy
came looking to mine, a cousin of folks next county over, willing to work for half
a grown man’s wage—well, every man there had folks
spread from Kentucky to Missouri. Come 5 a.m. Monday, she was on her way down.
She was on her way down when she realized
she’d never been down before. In Macoupin County
land went across and sky went up and only
varmits and miners went down. There was a world known
only to men under the world she knew.
She was on her way down and she couldn’t
find words for the dark: pitch-dark, pitch-black,
dim, blurred, sunless, dense, leaden,
grim, grimy, muted, muffled, forlorn,
sinister, perverse, damnable, hellish,
comfortless, lonely, heartbroken, destroyed.
This is how my father and brother grew up
and this how I’ll grow up too. Men
face this every day, my God, how do they…
It was late when she came up. One day prior
she would’ve said dark, but never again would Ina
confuse the soft charcoal night with dark. Heading
down the road she realized she could not go home.
The coal dust that, settled, had concealed her secret
would betray her the second she set foot in her house.
So she grunted good night, thrust her hand to the right,
and ducked through the barbed wire toward the barn
that had abetted her constant threats to run away.
When she’d return tomorrow as grimy as she’d left
no one would give a rat’s ass. Miners knew everything
there was to know about making do and there
was nothing new about a scrawny boy beginning
his first man’s job without a second set of clothes.