Oct/Nov 2010 Poetry

Two Poems

by Laura Madeline Wiseman

Picking for Silver at the Matilda Fletcher Mine, 1895

It ticked the man off, just a little, the crotch-high boots,
the carbide lamp, the slick jacket, the wet hat,
the dank smell of men bathed in last night's beer.

Sure he had his broom and pick axe, his chisel,
the metal pail of lunch he'd prepared himself
this morning at six. But most men didn't study

to be a mining engineer, a job which didn't exist
in Reward Gold or in this century's Mayflower.
$10,000 had been made here in 1879. In 1895

as he heaved three hours' work into a cart
he coughed, a reminder of childhood disease,
of how the mind can make you ill with a thought.

What he wanted was to be a man, to marry
his college sweetheart, to earn a million at 30.
His mother had died at 35. His father, at 34. At 21

and at $2.50 a day, he'd never amount to much
more than the wayward flow of ruby and lead,
silver and gray copper. But he needed to

watch for the telltale rumble of another cave-in
over Georgetown in the Democrat mountains
like the one in 1884, the year of his mother's death.

It was always possible to be smothered and crushed
to swallow the dirt, water, and rock of Colorado.
He hoped to exit the mouth of Matilda Fletcher alive

and again feel the curious tug of something. More
than inward silence, as if after all these years
of waiting, he knew he now had something to say.


Proposed: The Conjugal Tongue

Lecture: The Law of Happiness
Iowa, 1885

Eleven years a widow, then I walk the aisle
into the wooden mouth of the church,
the building my groom built with words

as men pulled timber from the river
and sanded beams. My groom tested
the acoustics, tongued air over new planks.

As men aligned doors, rigged the long throat
of the furnace to bellow its blackness up,
my groom wrote sermons, persuaded

a council of men to speak of the future
church, same spot, but with brick walls,
stained glass windows, a balcony, a dome.

Like you and I, he managed to escape
from the family farm, the place

where a box of matches had to last a year,
where girls weren't educated, but boys were
sent to school, college, and then seminary.

When his lip moved with the question,
I already knew what I was going to say.


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