Silver Mine

Mark Anthony Jarman

In a Twin Otter float-plane we rise above the headframe tower that sent men down in a rusty cage. 7 towers lean, 7 ochre beauties above the valley’s mal de terre and the mine where my dark-haired brother was lost. Trapped in the crooked halls of slopes and drifts, they were one thing and became another, pinned to the face, no resurrection from a rock burst, a choke slinger, a percussion drill.

 

To find the rich surface veins—oh that distinct line in sparkling rock, the look of love, the look of money—we talked the hill’s vegetation into vanishing with high-pressure hoses until the lake below us drained and closed like a door, a world erased. We saw denuded stone like a flensed animal, coat stripped, our hill a pale elephant scraped down to white fat and bone. Then the veins were easy.

 

Clouds in our sky mirror wrinkled hills the colour of bacon lard, clouds like ghostly fingers stretching into heavens where our tiny plane tilts wings and welcomes a wet new passenger. In the narrow plane’s backseat the woman’s water has broken and her baby seeks escape, a child climbing to us. 

 

From the drift’s dark chamber the purple child finally emerges as from a mine running with water, limbs not moving, not breathing, covered in what looks like blueberry yogurt.

 

That one’s dead, I say, then the throat opens. It’s alive. I take my spare white t-shirt, dry the child, wrap the child. A horse with a colt would do this with its own tongue, its mouth. At the mouth of the mine cameras and flashbulbs waited for even one miner to emerge. 

 

The expectant mother radioed in to be picked up, her rippling contractions hitting hard weeks early. An extraction, a plane drifting to a dock like any other dock in the rain. 1000 rains peppering 1000 lakes, then up in the strange clouds I wipe away strange yogurt. It was one thing and became another. 

 

This must be a first, I say to the pilot. 

 

Second actually. We had another baby back there, what, three years ago? But yeah.  Real rare to take off with six and land with seven.

 

I went to war and my brother stayed working the face. At a pier cameras wait. The props shut down and we drift to a pier in beautiful silence, my favourite part. 

 

Hoist towers rise like wooden temples over the hilltops and in the centre of the earth is a fountain. The two-sided brain translates, celebrates. Two sides to each twisting valley and I drift in slumber knowing I was a horse with a wet colt and I dried the fluid while the company wiped green hillsides clean.

(pp. 2-3, The Hong Kong Review, Vol. III, No. 3)