Thursday, January 29, 2015

Today Vox Populi is featuring "Company Town," one of the poems from my western Pennsylvania project. In fact, the epigraph that opens the poem is what triggered the entire endeavor.

In 2011 I came across this obituary in the New York Times:
E. B. Leisenring Jr., the scion of a powerful Pennsylvania coal family who led industry negotiators during a long and bitter mine workers’ strike in 1978, ignoring pleas by President Jimmy Carter and helping to win a settlement that largely favored mine owners, died on March 2 at his winter home in Aiken, S.C. He was 85.
I was shocked to discover that he had been a real man because my only connection was with the word Leisenring on a road sign. It was the name of a coal-company town close to where my grandfather had lived, on the border of Fayette and Westmoreland counties. I had never thought of the name as human but as something mythic: the Ring of Nibelung, perhaps. So when I read the obituary, I suddenly recognized the huge hole in my understanding of a place that I had loved so intensely as a child. I had lived there in the present, with a small girl's concentrated obsession on the details of the moment: the one giant step that rose up in the middle of the flat stone walkway between the house and the barn; the scent of mallow, as I sat behind the well house and crushed the weed between my palms; how my index finger felt when Daisy the cow accidentally squashed it against the fence with her horn; what it was like to fall unexpectedly through a trapdoor.

Reading the obituary turned out to be a different sort of trapdoor.

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