this blog is wearing black tonight

four families are grieving tonight.

four brothers, sons, fathers, husbands will be carried out of their pit never to return.

four more men are taken by our hunger for coal to warm us and light our homes.

i’ve never lived in a pit community, but as part of a pit family the hairs rise on my neck every time i hear of pitmen trapped underground. every time i look to some higher power i’m not even sure is there to help the men in the dark between rock and water; to comfort the wives, the mothers, the friends and the children. to take the miners back home with their pit boots on their feet, not carried out by their mates under a blanket. ‘let them walk out’ i whisper to myself.

this time, for all the heroism and hopes of a whole community they didn’t walk out. the whispered prayers went unanswered as prayers often do. the rescuers left empty-handed with exhaustion their only reward.

four men.

four families.

tiny in global terms. a deep seam of grief in human terms. a reminder that the industry that saw men bound as slaves to their owners long after the british empire had abolished slavery, then paid in tokens that could only be spent in their owners’ shops, still demands its sacrifices. a reminder that the earth, vast and powerful, is murderous when it chooses, crushing us like poverty.

they say you can’t understand the feel of a pit tragedy until you have been part of that village waiting, clinging to the whispered hope for its men. i believe it. but i know that the memory from my grandfather and his father squats deep underground in me. it broods under my soft life, miles from home, from where home will always be, from where the broken bodies of generations of men lie underground, where the tears of their women fell. it’s a chain that binds durham to yorkshire to wales to waikato. it rings the world to anywhere men have wrestled with the earth to win a handful of black rock and a lungful of dust. to dig profit for men who never touched a pick or a geordie lamp, for women who never washed their crushed sons and husbands to give them back to the rock, to darkness one last time.

so that’s why the blog wears black. for those four men, their four families, their village and for every man lost to the pits, every child whose father was stolen by the merciless seam, every tear shed in every pit village anywhere in the world.

from me and my folk, sleep well bonny lads.


6 responses to “this blog is wearing black tonight

  1. may they rest in peace.

  2. Dear Mate,

    I don’t even know what words to put down here, what words might feel like something.

    But I need to show up because something is demanded by music like this.

    I’ll just think out loud. Maybe shared despair is the best we have.

    May I sit down and cry with you?

    I lost my father to the war machine and knew it as a war machine even before I lost him. I think he knew it too but it was the best living he knew he could make when I was a child.

    He wasn’t killed directly, but as a by-product. He was collateral damage as the “serious people” say.

    But he died for real and he died of cancer that took years to kill him induced by herbicides blasted into his skin while shelling Vietnam from an amphibious carrier (essentially marines and helicopters) offshore.

    May I meander?

    If you’ve fired a weapon, you know there’s always a back charge from the through cylinder. If you fire a handgun, debris is embedded into your wrist and police can easily test to determine the presence of that debris. Very few fabrics can repel supersonic handgun debris. Imagine commanding a battery of eight inch guns firing repeatedly into a rain forest and being replenished of munitions by a rolling wave of supply ships.

    You’re at the front end of a slow machine gun with 8″ shells.

    As a proud engineer son I’ll comment here that people generally underestimate the kinetic accuracy of these cannon on floating platforms. The typical targeted receiving end of an 8″ gun at several miles is less than a meter square. The USS Missouri battleship (with nine 16″ guns) could thread a Volkswagen weighted munition (2700 lbs) thru a particular window of a hotel at eighteen miles. My father and I were born in Missouri and we made a point of walking this ship together several times during her several refurbishments. God, those memories of hanging out with him in that uniform. The point is that we hit everything we wanted to hit, and we hit only what we wanted to hit.

    If you’re pushing herbicide duty on a trail you really want to shut down, you fire at the rate your guns stay cool enough to not deform. There is no night. You have guns that fire floating torches that linger for minutes and you rip up another several hundred meters. You can gut a part of the world this way. You can be proud of the discipline and logistics and chemistry and physics but you have to hate the outcome.

    I stood on his ship and marveled at the weight of steel under my feet. I rode the huge helicopter elevator with his hand holding mine and felt the smooth motion of tons of metal moving to the carrier deck. I stood where he stood. I touched the guns and watched the roiling sea as he saw it.

    I can’t go farther without writing God Bless The U.S. Navy.

    They are the men and women on the line who enable me to sleep soundly at night.

    Yet I must also take the case of the Other Side and generally do so. We’ve rendered huge parts of Laos and Cambodia and Vietnam uninhabitable from herbicide shelling. The half life on some of these chemicals is around a century, so little is going to grow on these millions of acres for hundreds of years. Nobody is going to grow corn here and eat it. Arable land was specifically targeted.

    During the Vietnam “conflict” America dropped more ordinance on Laos than was dropped by every nation on anybody during the entirety of WWII. Every available bomber was involved in the concerted effort to render unusable what we know today as half of the arable land of the entire country. Today, our unexploded cluster munitions kill over 200 people annually in Laos alone, and this toll is considered light because many deaths are unreported.

    For some reason it’s invisible to Americans, but in the last decade we’ve likely killed more Laotians than were killed at the World Trade Center, a city block that wasn’t rendered unusable or uninhabitable or still kills people simply by walking there. We certainly don’t have to grow corn there to survive.

    I hiked recently in West Virginia on a walkabout and by accident saw coal mining in its modern form. We strip off the whole tops of mountains now and push everything we don’t want down into the valleys where the water runs and takes all the heavy metals to the rivers and the sea. Talk about “externalities” and unconsidered consequences.

    I spend much of my time on these walkabouts thinking about my dad and why we couldn’t quite reach each other but how we were coming close to being able to simply talk about important things.

    In my dreams he is sometimes close enough that we reach out and touch as if through a mirror or a glass. That dream is recurring. We reach out to touch and then I see there is a pane of glass between us. I don’t know if it’s him on the other side of a glass or me reflected in a mirror. I touch it just as he does from the other side. I always wonder how hard it would be to break what’s between us. Sometimes there is a knock (in the dream) and then I wake up and there’s nothing there.

    My Father was a disciplined genius, and all my competence and capacity flow directly from him.

    My Mother is from first breath in the morning an artist, and gave me the whirlwind of colors and sounds and emotions. I’m not sure where my feet are when she’s around, if atoms are even solid or steel won’t bend at a glance. Artist Mothers are that powerful.

    My dad would never fall to the sound of music, never bend to the color of a butterfly’s wing, never be broken by the wonderful fragrance of a dog’s breath in the morning.

    They were perfect together … Sun and Moon and stars and wind and rain …

    My Mother is still alive, gardening, and oh I love the colors and sounds she gave me.

    And I miss, oh God I miss, my dad.


  3. My thoughts are with the families.

    A curse upon those who would interfere with mine safety.

  4. A friend has suggested my post here may not be as clear as I intended. I hate Big War, Big Coal, Big Capitalism, and Big Stupid Anything that takes the people we love and grinds them into nothing. My views on American War and American Justice are perfectly expressed by Noam Chomsky and Glen Greenwald (this was the chasm between me and my father).

    My greatest despair is that we chose this and I have no clue why. I feel almost alien here. And I can remember when I was a child walking in huge libraries and admiring huge bridges and marveling at the adults who could make such things and how well they ran things and how lovely it was going to be to join them and wondering if I could ever be smart enough to build a bridge.

    Then I aged and discovered there are really no adults in charge. People have said that it’s like high school never ends, that large institutions from Hollywood to Wall Street are simply high school with money. But it’s not. It’s fourth grade and the bullies prowl the playgrounds and no one is in charge and any anthropologist from Mars or Venus would look at our resources and our potential and shake her head and wonder what the hell happened here.

    Every square inch of every soil blanketing the world has felt the tears from those who have lost a loved one to this madness.

    My prayers with all of us.


  5. dear e,

    i read your previous and was affected by it – as so often with what you write. i felt any comment from me was superfluous.
    as one familiar with the views you express, it read to me as yet another expression of your unconditional love of the human and unconditional hatred of just those anti-human forces you talk about above. but you never over-simplify those feelings. i felt the power of your fascination with those things you describe. but always i feel your humanity singing out above all else. if we are all brothers in this world, i’m happy to be related to you.

  6. My Grandad was killed down the pit in 1963. He was 63 and had worked down the pit from being 14 years old. The pit deputy sent a wagon down the seam my Grandad was working on, he was repairing the track. The pit deputy forgot my Grandad was down there. My Grandma got £250 compensation.

    The news made me shudder – I thought pit deaths were a thing of the past.

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