A Photograph of the Day-Shift: North Star Mine,20 June 1938
This print grays their mission like carbide.
Denim and cotton fall from shoulders,
enwrap legs in a fog of fatigue.
Miles under Grass Valley, they carved roads
& inhaled the breath of blind mules. Went where consumptive
foremen said to go. Fall with them now
a thousand feet to First Level, depend
on cable, hug a dinner-bucket to your chin, stand
bone-and-muscle close. Smell dynamite
and manufactured air. Meet my father, there
in a crevice of the mission, hard-hat tipped back,
alongside older men hard with rage and booze.
Seventeen: He shouldn’t have been hired. North Star
needed backs and shoulders, the will to muck in space
too small to stand in. The camera hires him. The rest
is a sullen day crew. Ghostly battalion: two hundred
acolytes of labor. Gold was the Company
they kept in business. They kept women in whorehouses.
Gold was a way to box with poverty. And lose.
The camera situates faces between Wars, miners
wary between missions, shadows in history’s tunnel.
A caption floats: EMPIRE STAR MINES CO. LTD. FRED
W. NOBS, GENERAL MGR M.E. NEWLOVE SUPT.
GRASS VALLEY CALIF. JUNE 20 1938 DAY SHIFT
Get to work: They enter the cage of their lives, dropp into
work’s planet, excavate the 20th of June. Their light
stays in that company pose. They went down, set charges,
mucked detritus of Blast, loaded cars, stayed alive.
They went down into their granite time.
They mined their pulses in quartz veins.
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(March 26, 1874 – January 29, 1963)
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(31 March 1934 – 31 May 2009)
(16 April 1918 – 27 February 2002)
(1 February 1902 – 22 May 1967)
(January 30, 1935 – September 14, 1984)
(10 December 1830 – 15 May 1886)
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