Rita Mae Reese has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a “Discovery”/The Nation award. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in journals and anthologies including Imaginative Writing, From Where You Dream, Blackbird, New England Review, The Southern Review, and The Nation. She is currently working on a novel. You can follow her blog at: http://ritamae-reese.blogspot.com
The Opposite of Falling Stars, 1978
My family lives beside the trestle. We
sleep inside the smell of creosote and
beneath the sound of trains rattling:
coal carried to the tipple across the black
Kanawha. I dream wrecks in green valleys;
my sisters dream boys hopping trains; our mother
sleeps in her narrow bed. The coal falls
from its gondolas and the quivering,
bear-brown timber. Days in the alley,
I collect the black chunks and recite
graphite, anthracite, bituminous, lignite.
The coal company reduced the number killed by nearly 200 men and boys
in the worst mining accident in U.S. history.
Goods were thrown from the shelves
of the company store,
the river reached for the railroad
tracks, the hill
lunged away from itself.
The houses on the hill
lifted and shook. The bank,
not yet finished,
trembled but its beams held.
printed rumors of incredible
escapes: men shot
straight through air holes,
whole as ever,
and twice as alive. Children
the entrances. Women tore
at their hair
and scratched their faces.
The dead were taken
out as they had gone in,
in twos and threes,
and carried to the bank like
something still valuable
and, like something once valuable,
as the counting began.