Treasure Island

Hans Ostrom

(1954 / California)

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.

Submitted: Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Edited: Tuesday, April 19, 2011

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  • Cheryl Lynn Moyer-peele (11/24/2008 11:36:00 PM)

    Hans - This is a very honest portrayal of a miner's life and the cost of working in the mines. I wrote a similar poem, ' The Dying Sleep'. Thank you for helping to expose this energy source too costly in human lives.

    Blessings to you - Cheryl (Report) Reply

  • Tom J. Mariani (11/2/2007)

    You draw the most vivid picture I have ever read. 'Fall with them now' is the most enticing line that have ever pulled me in to the rest of a poem. You have accomplished what I attempted in 'Wartime Lessons...' I have so much to learn. Your poem points the way. (Report) Reply

  • Gary Witt (10/23/2007 7:50:00 PM)

    Hans: This is one of the most compelling, well-crafted pieces I have read in a long time. My hat's off to you. Many thanks for sharing this one.

    -G (Report) Reply

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