a different sort of genealogy

my father’s father kept the accounts
for a coal mine in eastern Pennsylvania
until one Valentine’s Day his heart quit
on him and birthed a widow in its stead

driving through the corrugated remains
of a Poconos coal town it’s unsettling
to think how the experiences of others
will invariably influence our own

and I wonder how that suddenly empty seat
might have turned the course of that
twelve-year old boy who would in forty years
be my father and was he as hollowed out

as the empty mines that gutted the hills,
or as that old miner’s shack crouched
at the base of the rocks weeping rust
and coal dust for thirty years and more

earlier that morning I’d been snailing along
in the car lost in the sudden morning fog
of November in the Alleghenies with every turn
and curve a ‘poke at fate’ in near-zero visibility

when God or Providence or what-have-you
sent succor in the hulking form of a Kenmore truck
whose keeper leaned his elbows on my window
and said it’s ok, just follow me

I was drawn in by the confidence of his long
experience and followed the red trail
of his hazards to the next town,
where I turned off with a double-honk of thanks

now trawling through the landscape of my father’s youth
I wonder how it was he found his way through the fog
with no light to follow but miners’ lamps disappearing
into dark shafts, and no one to say just follow me

© Sarah Whiteley


  1. That’s a cracking poem, Sarah. Bonzer. A corker! In modern American I guess you’d say Awesome! Layers of time; layers of emotion; and plenty to keep on thinking about afterwards.



      1. Oh! He’s my hero. I wish I had met him before he passed on. His book Oregon Message kinda saved my life (figuratively) when I was living alone in Indiana years ago. I’m glad we bumped into each other. Now we can go for a drink and read poems to each other! 😀



        1. 🙂 Well you’ll be pleased to know I’m getting a line from one of his pieces tattooed on my arm (hopefully later this year). And I’m always up for a drink with a fellow poet!



  2. Not only do I find this excellent poem very moving, but…oh my goodness…a William Stafford fan…you couldn’t be more devoted than I am to that under-rated poet. He took me across a great poetry divide, figuratively speaking.



    1. thank you very much! I do love Stafford – always find myself surprised when someone’s not read his work – one of these days I’ll put together a shortlist of my favorite and maybe keep adding to it as a separate blog page 🙂 Harrison, Roethke, Kooser, etc.



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