The Knockers

miner
Stained glass at Frieburg Cathedral, 1330

 

The Knockers

Buckled-up backbones and crippled-up lungs,
Slag-covered faces and slag-covered tongues,
A long social ladder with negative rungs:
Who’d want to be a miner ?

The pit-pony sappers and donkey-work crews,
Collapses, explosions, and cancerous ooze,
Loyally coughing up union dues:
Who’d want to be a miner ?

Better to sweat in a mill or a diner,
Why, even the farmhands live finer !

Who wants to trudge out for an hour each way,
For a pitch-black and unpaid damn hour each way –
Well, maybe for Orwell, but hardly today,
For much has got better since then:

There’s gadgets that monitor gases, you know,
There’s baths at the pit-head, there’s lights down below,
And children were banished a lifetime ago.
So much has got better since then.

Of course, I’m just an outsider,
So what can I say ?
And yes, I see all of your pride
In your hard-digging day;
But is this your hopes for your kids
When it’s their turn to play ?
From Maerdy to Maltby, from Pittsburgh to Perth:
The sweatshops of Hell in the bowels of the earth.

Much has got better, but much is the same:
It’s ev’ry bit deadly and harsh as they claim,
And given the choice, who would stay in this game ?
Who’d want to be a miner ?

They’re breaking their backs as they’re earning their brass,
And working the hardest of all working class,
To lose out to the North Sea and natural gas.
Who’d want to be a miner ?

Ton after ton till your body is done,
And when will you next see the sun ?

Jet-black the spade-men – yet shining, their eyes,
From the guts of the planet they’re grubbing their prize,
In filthy conditions and filthier skies,
Let’s bring them back into the light.

They’re digging-up carbon from safe in its berth,
They’re warming our hearths as they’re warming our earth,
They don’t need to kill us to show us their worth.
Let’s bring them back into the light.

Of course, I’m just an outsider,
So what do I know ?
And yes, I see all of the pride
That your town has to show;
And were all the pits to close down,
Well then, where would it go ?
For deep underground there lies captured your soul,
With nothing left topside ’cept bleakness and dole.

 

I wrote this a few days after Margaret Thatcher died.  As one of the first politicians to take climate change seriously, can we imagine her destruction of the UK coal industry was all to save the planet ?  It certainly didn’t save the communities.

The knockers of the title were spirits in the mines who would knock the walls ominously just before a cave-in.

 

 

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