I know I've been thinking too much about this,
the papering over of a life, my uncle
easing himself down into the car, his wife
three thousand miles away, his son in the war.
We have collected him to share Easter
with the family, driving across the thin
arm of Idaho, through the Silver valley.
He tells us about the loss
of ninety miners to poisoned air, the two
who survived and lived for days eating
the lunches of all the men they had grown up among.
He told us this river that follows the road
in his boyhood ran the color and luster
of dirty silver as the valley
opened from the narrows shoulders of rock.
I remember myself the black
slagheaps crowded to the road
as it flows down into Smelterville,
the light that slid off of them, the strange
shine from underneath. They are still there,
under the graded gravel and weak grass,
betrayed by their too regular sides and narrow
ridge, drawn straight like a pointing finger
from the mines into the heart of town.
I want to stop and pull the children from the car,
pull aside the gravel with our fingers,
I want to feel the slag on my hands, and I wonder,
will it be a fine silt under my fingernails,
slippery between my palms, or will it be
sharp flakes that burrow into the skin?
I want to peel back this skin, make everyone here
stand in the rot of what was done
and know what they've grown up among.
But they do know. And in the spring sun,
while the poor grass scratches up from the gravel,
it is impossible not to want to feel alive
and impossible not to remember that we are.
Michael Zbigley is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana and has previously published in Red River Review and Slow Trains, with work forthcoming in Gin Bender.