Poetry: The Mining Town

Winner of the 2019 SFPA poetry contest in the long form category, Eligible for the Rhysling Award

Holly Lyn Walrath
Oct 24, 2019 · 5 min read

Update: This poem is eligible for a Rhysling Award. Members of the SFPA can vote for it for best poem of the year. Keep an eye out for the anthology!

I am pleased to announce that my poem, “The Mining Town” is the winner of the SFPA: Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association contest long form category. Here’s what the judge had to say about the winners:

“When the container for our work is expanded, there’s room to explore braided narratives. These longer poems convey multiple specific stories while still opening themselves up for the audience to imprint their own experiences onto the work.”

This poem is an excerpt from a longer epic poem of the same name. It’s meant to be a “choose your own adventure” type poem, where you can read it in any order you like. Read it here in series form.

The Mining Town
by Holly Lyn Walrath

is all bric-a-brac now. Tourists cram into houses-turned-stores, drink beer on the corners from the new microbrewery in the old mill, buy sweatshirts that say “I mined the deep and all I got was this stupid shirt,” but few take the walk up there, into the hills. It’s better to stay down here, safe among the ghosts of houses, to plunder their wares with big white thumbs and buy things, there are always more things to buy in a ghost town.

What happened to this town?

The Church

bell rings at dawn and dusk. The men paint the white brick black and red roof black and burn the picket fence. They stand to survey their work, cigarettes dangling from their slack jaws, hands black with pitch. At home, they do not wash the darkness away with silver soap but place those hands on the bodies of wives and backsides of children and hips of back-alley lovers and blank pieces of paper longing for ink. You must remember, this was a different time.

Why did they paint the church black?

The General Store

at first sold normal goods. Tack and seed, hay and hen egg. Slowly, strange objects appeared upon the shelves. A single deer’s antler, painted gold. Ant farms, pre-made, the little red bodies within tunneling deeper and deeper. A dozen wooden tokens carved with other Gods. Silver machines, alien in origin. Jars of body parts. Flower buds encased in glass. Japanese swords. The souls of men disguised in clock faces. Irony. Joy. Peace, if you could afford it.

Where did the objects come from?

The Library

There is no library. It sank into the ground years ago. Perhaps an industrious young man might dig his way down, find it deep beneath the sod and worms, and crawl in through a back window, left open by the librarian on a summer’s day, to bring in a bit of the fresh mountain breeze, and there he might find her still, humming a bit, rocking in her chair behind the card catalog, waiting for someone to ask for a book.

Why is there no library?

The Abandoned Mine

The most prominent feature being the stores of abandoned ore. Some piled in carts like great mounds of jewels, other still half-buried in the walls, their shiny faces masks waiting to be removed and to reveal the monster within. Once, the ore was necessary to the planet’s deepest life, and once, it was necessary to human life. Now, it’s merely lonely. It creeps out in tendrils, seeding its jeweled body through the earth, down the path, to the town. It puts out feelers in tidy bed and breakfast gardens, a blue-flame flower here, a ruddy weed there, in with the wheat in the farmer’s fields and creeping through the cracks of the brick on the cobblestone streets.

Why is the ore no longer needed?

The Trail Leading Away from the Mine

is overgrown with brush and wing, birds hopping along moss-covered logs, blooming glens of clover where bunnies forage, deep tufts of ash from the death trees, who burn each night in twilight and then like the phoenix, regrow each morning. The ash is the bodies of those long gone souls-yet a bit of their yearning still remains. The fire is the mountain’s heart rained down. And every curse it whispers is made new again, every morning it awakes forgetting what it forgot.

Why do the trees burn?

The Tenement Roofs

are where the miners went to smoke, and sometimes drink, when their wives didn’t want them around, which was often. Their feet dangled over the edges, all in a row. They said nothing to each other, nothing, except to whisper, “You see the blue light?” and one would say in response, “Aye, I seen the blue light, down in the depths, I seen it.”

Who was the first to follow the light?

The Drummer Boy

used to play on the corner for ha’pennies, picking out a rhythm on his bone-cage banjo and tapping the beat with his foot on his man-skin drum. He made a deal with the devil before such things became unnecessary and then he got curious, and when a boy gets curious all hell breaks loose. He followed the men and picked out each one for the killing, and then ran to the bridge where the bats roosted to tell them the news. They listened, curious, and then swarmed out into the twilight on the hunt.

What were they hunting?

The Foreman

was afraid of the dark. He sent his men down to the caves and tunnels with only a canary and other men for company and he expected no philandering with either, but he never laid eyes on the ore in his own life time. He watched them leave his little cabin, one by one, walk up the trail and disappear into the maw, and he turned away, turned the crank on his music box, and listened to Clementine over and over again. Oh my darling, he sang, oh, oh.

Who gave the foreman his music box?

The Devil

tends the local pub. But he never seemed to have any purpose except to serve another round. He was lonely, dreadfully lonely. His lover died and he kept her picture over the till and dared any man to look upon it without weeping. He once lived in a brighter place, was once a wealthy man with bigger plans. But the devil didn’t realize that once he’d won out, he’d be bored. Now he poisons the well out back with his tears, only a few each night. It’s the least he can do.

Who loves the devil?


Write Wild

On Writing, Books, Reading, and All Things Literary

Holly Lyn Walrath

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I'm a writer, editor, and poet. Find me online at www.hlwalrath.com.

Write Wild

On Writing, Books, Reading, and All Things Literary

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