Two Poems

Tour of the Cornwall Mine

[The mine] shows what man will do, and whither he will go 
in the hunt for valuable metals.
—Elihu Burritt, A Walk from London to Land's End (1865)

In that direction, a tunnel inches
through cliffside under headland, small animal 
burrowing away from light. 
And here, pick and shovel delve a quarter mile 
beneath the ocean's bed, 
under sailing ships and whales at play. 

The miners, not quite blind to daylight,
leave day behind each morning,
ride a skip down to passages 
exhaling the faint breath of underground.

You marvel at the engineering, but 
fail to mention—just last year, 
nine men and boys 
in the cabled skip—a link of chain broken— 
dust and sparks, nine lives 
down the shaft's throat. 

Even now, miners dig underneath 
your boots—blessed above 
ground with travel-dirt—as you stand atop 
mine-works hungrier than earth.


They Run the Train Underground

Under this house, or maybe the tenement
across the way, in stealth 
of a passage tunneled out of sight—

under paved roads and church-vaults,
under pews where people pray, 
unknowns are traveling through the dark.

Sometimes you wake from a dream
of screaming—train whistle, you think, but
there's only silence striking chords

of the unconscious. Or maybe an unheard 
resonance, tremors that rise to shake
the firmest palace to the ground.

Under this house, or the one 
next door, foreigners—and maybe 
your own countrymen who won't look you

in the eye—are moving
toward the heart of the city. 
Your whole house undermined.

—Taylor Graham, Placerville, CA