“Harlan County, USA (2019)” by Pauletta Hansel

Pauletta Hansel


Maybe it is a revelation to you,
but miners know how to stop a train.
Maybe you think that love of coal
means love of the company.
Let me tell you what we love
about coal.
It’s the paycheck.
The one we don’t have.
It’s the food
that’s not on the table,
the new backpack
that won’t be on his back,
my boy’s first day of school.
The doctor his granny
won’t be seeing for her heart.
Remember, we’re used to the dark.
We can see inside your pockets
lined from the coal we dug for free.
We can see the car on the track
filled up from the mine
you pulled us out of.
As long as it’s sitting there,
our hard work inside it,
we’ll be sitting here.

from Poets Respond
August 4, 2019


Pauletta Hansel: “Some phrases are from ‘No pay, we stay; Protesting miners in Harlan County are not going anywhere.’ The mine from which the coal is blocked from leaving belongs to Revelation Energy LLC, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on July 1st along with its affiliate Blackjewel LLC; its last paycheck to the miners for the coal they dug bounced. Though the poem is addressed to the company, this action has given me hope—a revelation of sorts—that even in so-called ‘Trump Country,’ the spirit of Appalachia activism has not died.” (web)

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