June 22, 2014 in Features

American Life in Poetry

Ted Kooser U.S. poet laureate, 2004-2006

Diane Gilliam Fisher, who lives in Ohio, has published a book called “Kettle Bottom” that portrays the hard life of the West Virginia coal camps. Here is just one of her evocative poems.

Violet’s Wash

You can’t have nothing clean.

I scrubbed like a crazy woman

at Isom’s clothes that first week

and here they come off the line, little black

stripes wherever I’d pinned them up

or hung them over – coal dust settles

on the clothesline, piles up

like a line of snow on a tree branch.

After that, I wiped down the clothesline

every time, but no matter, you can’t

get it all off. His coveralls is stripy

with black and gray lines,

ankles of his pants is ringed around,

like marks left by shackles.

I thought I’d die that first week

when I seen him walk off to the mine,

black, burnt-looking marks

on his shirt over his shoulders, right

where wings would of folded.

Poem copyright 2004 by Diane Gilliam Fisher from “Kettle Bottom,” Perugia Press, 2004. Poem reprinted by permission of the author and the publisher. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation and the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts.

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