Valley of Ashes

The morning light is frail as the stalk

of a lily, greenish, as if ready to droop

back into night and put out the sun.

I’ve traveled all the way from my lush

valley in Wales, a miner’s daughter

and now a miner’s wife, staring out

the doorway at desolation, not a tree

or anything green as far as I can see,

only rows of unpainted shacks, just

a step between front stoop and dusty,

dirt street, gray as a layer of ashes

in the feeble dawn.


Back home, our company bungalows

were built of native stone, our valley

ringed by mountains, wildflowers

dotting the green meadow grass

with a dozen colors.


As I watch the woman across the road

scrub clothes on a big washboard,

I begin to cry.

My two little girls are asleep, oblivious

to the dirty light, the stretch of gray streets

that will flow with mud in the spring.

They don’t yet hear the mine’s

machinery grating out the minutes,

or the sound of cloth rubbed vigorously

against corrugated metal.

When they awake, I’ll plait their hair

without ribbons and dress them in gray,

as I begin to teach them to live without color.

I will teach them not to miss trees,

tender grass or flowers.

They will learn to love their gray dresses

and the landscape of dirt, gray rock and brush.

They will learn to see beauty

in a diatom on a lump of coal,

or a dust phantasm

rising in a sudden wind.