Monthly Archives: April 2016

‘Mother Earth Ain’t No Friend Of Mine’ by Andrew Bradford

We got out before it got too bad, but still it was like hell come to earth at times down in the mines. Wish I had never heard of coal mining, but how you gonna earn a living in Kentucky if you ain’t got no education, no training, no nothing? A job is better than none, Mama always said, and she wasn’t wrong about that.

Started when I was only 15 even though it wasn’t legal. The company would look the other way if you had kinfolk who were already working for them. Since Daddy and Uncle Jack had been down in the mines for years, they let me go with them and work the Danderoff vein until it was picked clean. Took us months just to get to the best part of the mine, dig out that coal and send it down the line. End of the day you’d be coughing your damn fool head off, but it was good honest work and it was better than starving to death.

‡     ‡   ‡

It was sometime in May, a week before Mother’s Day when the explosion happened. Said later it was a buildup of methane gas deep inside the guts of the mine. I was just going in for the day, was standing at the entrance to the mine and suiting up for the day’s work when the world started to tremble under my feet. Felt like I was being shaken loose from my skin and bones. I hit the ground and started praying, asking God to protect me. I wasn’t thinking of anyone but myself for that moment, just praying God would let me live.

Took them nearly a week to clear a path so they could get to the dead miners. Found 57 bodies and buried them in pine boxes the company deducted the cost of from their salary before they turned it over to their wives. Never knew how damned I was until that day. It hit me that one day that was gonna be me. One day they’d be telling some girl I had married that I was dead and gone, buried under tons of rock. So I got out when I could and moved away.

‡     ‡   ‡

Since then, life’s been anything but easy. I was homeless for a few months at first, then managed to hook up with a construction crew just outside Mobile, Alabama. Worked with a sledgehammer and road tar for years before my back gave out.

Along the way I got married three times and had four kids. Three sons and a daughter who died when she was only a year old. Had some rare blood disease they said might have been passed down on my side of the family. Nearly drove me crazy when she passed, but I got by with some help from liquor and tears mixed together. Seems like I can’t even manage to do the job of Dad right.

Now I live alone here in the mountains of West Virginia. I don’t have much, but I do have some peace and quiet most days. My sons all work in the mines now, and I wish I could help them get outta that life, but it’s not possible. I just hope and pray one day they’ll do better than I did. I tried to be a good man, but I failed more than I met the mark. Guess it doesn’t matter since Dr. Baker says the lung cancer should finish me off before the year’s out.

Not long ago some kid from the college down in Morgantown came to talk to me and said it was for some paper he was writing for a class. He wanted to know what I’d learned in my years. And I thought a long time before I answered him and said, “Nothing, really. Not a damn thing. Nope.”

Later, the kid sent me a copy of the paper he wrote, but I didn’t read it because I know good and damn well how it ends.

Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Manufactured Assent’ by Andrew Bradford

So you heard the delicate melody and wondered if it could be real

Better than the love of a false and cruel one who leaves at first light

I was once in the shadow of a faded cloudy day that never relented

They set a watchman upon the distant hill, and he often would cry out

If we might pursue more surely, might believe in the confidence of the false

They may one day write a book of your life, so what would you want it to read?

Fragments, scattered gibberish, smiles, tears, delusions, aching

Had it been truer, it might have been lilies on the outside, a rose deep within

Sits the king on his highest throne, silent in his judgments

We were all much happier before we gave our approval to being subjected

All in the name of safety, security, another sunrise or two

Standing here all those years later, do you feel more secure

Or merely more entombed?

Copyright 2016 by Andrew Bradford. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.


‘He Comes In The Night’ by Rachel Miller

I’m not gonna look at him, I won’t do it… don’t do it… ok, maybe a quick peek.  I’m scared as hell though.  I don’t really wanna see if he’s still there.  He knows I don’t like him comin into my room at night, I’ve told him. I’m sick of spendin hot minutes under the quilt not bein able to breathe properly.  Most nights I lie in bed facing the wall and pretend it’s not gonna happen again.  If I can’t see him, then it won’t happen… that’s what I tell myself anyway.

Sometimes I fall straight to sleep, those lucky nights don’t come often though, if anythin, he comes more frequently now.  I told me mum about it months ago, but she just thought I was crazy and not to bring it up again, ‘don’t bring it up again’ she smacked me on the back of the head and sent me to me room.  I knew then that I just had to put up with the active nights.

Night time comes round too quick now, an I find myself findin things to do so I don’t have to go up.  I had a bad feeling all day!  I was lying there in my PJs, hot under the quilt again.  I felt like my heart was gonna burst out my chest, and it was so quiet, I was finding myself listenin for things that weren’t even there.  Am I crazy like mum said? No…he’s there, I know it, I’m sure of it, I can sense someone’s there, I wanna look, but I can’t.  Ahh screw it, I dragged the covers off my head, making my hair static, and I saw him…I wish I didn’t look now.

Copyright 2016 by Rachel Miller. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Fond Farewell’ by Brad Thaxton

I have only this to say and tell before I bid you a fond farewell.

Soon free from the pain that was my past, eternal peace from my life at last!

I make no mention of beyond today, for now it’s time to pass away

While the chosen carry on, keeping the memories which in time will be gone.

So little love on all the earth, I cannot reason what it’s worth

To live a long resourceless life, without assurance or a wife.

Encircled by fears which strive at night, even through the fire of light

No longer shall I endlessly fight the demons that pursue me.

Empty hours that fill a space, marks feelings of mixed disgrace

Allowing destiny to walk in, so that the end can soon begin.

Another gone in early spring, when he accepted he never meant a thing.

Sorrow lost to know no more, only soft, cool silence beneath the floor

Do not question, for now I am free, from all the torment that was me.

Copyright 2016 by Brad Thaxton. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Moment Of Minuet’ by David Alexoff

He watches her and beams with pride. His little girl, eleven next month, dancing her first solo recital. Hannah has been dancing since the age of four, and now she is the focus of every eye as she dances alone onstage, each move perfectly timed to match the music.

After the recital there are milkshakes with parents and other dancers. The parents cannot stop talking about the recital; the children talk about everything but.

He sits and sips his shake, rolls a French fry in ketchup and wonders about the future. In ten years, she will be long gone; in college, perhaps graduated and on to her first job. How he wants to hold onto these moments, but they will fade just as surely as the season yet passed. Poor Hannah, what will become of her? And what a miracle she is already, he recalls, casting his mind back to the day she was born…

The doctor’s face is what let him know something was wrong. He remembers the doctor saying his wife ruptured her appendix in delivery and was being rushed into surgery to repair it. She would be fine, the doctor told him. He exhaled, felt his heart begin to beat once more. And then he felt that same heart caught in the back of his throat when the doctor half-whispered, It’s about the baby.

Hours of nothing but blurring emotions and questions that seemed to ebb and flow, as if feeding off one another in some kind of odd parasitical relationship. The more he paced, the more helpless he felt. Five hours in, he was told Hannah only had a one in ten chance of living. He could not bring himself to tell his wife at that moment, instead letting her sleep under the fog of drugs they were giving her.

Another four hours passed and finally the doctor came to update him. Hannah would live, but she might never walk. They would know more in a few days. After hearing that, he went to the hospital chapel and began to pray. He hadn’t’ prayed in years and doubted God would hear him or grant his request, but it seemed the thing to do as he waited to hear.

Now, eleven years later, he watches as she stands from the booth and begins to dance a mock minuet with a friend of hers. They laugh at the end of their dance, collapse back into the booth, and finish their snacks.

He stands and feels a tear welling in the corner of his right eye. He is unsure who to thank for all the good he has been granted.

Copyright 2016 by David Alexoff. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission.

‘Cool In The Summer’ by Gloria Christie

The little boy ate grasshoppers. I watched him closely as he captured the near-flight bug leaps in mid-air, the ease a testament to his practice. Then he looked around to see if we were watching. And we were. He had the goofy look another first-grader recognized as “not-too-bright.” But he grinned, the corner of his smile nearly reaching the ear, one on each side. I could see a haircut done at home by a mother too tired to care the result. Its mud-brown uniform, save from even the smallest light. A cowlick surrounded by sweat beads.

He put the bug into his mouth, a moment of undivided attention. Then he sucked its guts out. Ewwww. He tried for another show, but his audience didn’t care. I watched him wander away, alone, my six-year-old self cold with disgust. About eating bugs and “not being all there.”

I had to visit my cousin’s school that day, just one room living on a square of donated land, not much bigger than the building. One of a thousand like homes to educating the rural masses. I’d rather play. Danny, was just five days younger than me, but that made me the oldest. Forever.

It didn’t matter if I went to school with my cousins. I liked mine the best, though. Danny’s paint curled away like cracked mud. People “took care of ours.” A community blended young to old, not-quite-poor to poorest. Danny’s bored me. I wished I could tell time. Without that secret, endless truly was.

My aunt’s two-tone green sedan pulled up outside the school window. I heard the tires crinkle over the rocks. And out the dirt-streaked window, I could see Aunt Frances and Mom laughing. They always did. The afternoon heat was climbing through the weeds vining up a forgotten trellis, small dust eddies puffed before the car, their windows rolled down. Laughing.

There were five boys in Danny’s family: Milton, Lyle, Billy, Danny, and Rex. Oldest first, youngest last. Lyle could jump up on a horse from behind, just like cowboys in the westerns we watched Saturdays on the black and white TV. I rode with him sometimes. Their house was little, little. Parked on land rich with sandstone formations. Cool places in the summer.

Aunt Francis took care of Grandma Moody who had a wonderful little trailer. But Grandma was sick. She was afraid to go to the hospital, because she said that’s “where people went to die.” Grandma made popcorn balls for us at Christmas, but they weren’t any good, not a real present. She was always crocheting, a new cap and sweater for each new cousin, 26 in all. She smelled of sick.

Danny and I made potted meat sandwiches to go to the sandstones, but his dog was there. And it changed the taste of the food, to one I didn’t want. We didn’t have to take the little kids, because they were too little, and “might get hurt.” I thought they would probably fall into a hole or something, they didn’t “know any better.”

We couldn’t play in the house, because Uncle Clarence worked nights in the creamery in town. Great big skulking boys making no noise. A quiet house. Wrong. I wished Lyle was riding their horses. I don’t know where he was, maybe down by the persimmon tree. They didn’t have a creek like we had, a place to haul pebbles from to the driveway. But they had sandstones, cool in the summer.

Aunt Frances’ boys all drank Pepsi-Cola, in bottles “from the time they were six months old.” But they didn’t have any cavities. I did. They didn’t even have to put half water in theirs.

When Mom honked the horn, we had to run, racing back among the dry grass, beyond spring. “A dry year, this year.” The car inside breathes hot and boring. Just like the last days of the school year. I didn’t want to go back to Danny’s school. I didn’t like it. No place to go where it was cool.

Bugs don’t go to Heaven.