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August 25, 2013

Remembering the Tales of Coal Mines from Indiana

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

With the Little Italy Festival ready to begin on Friday, August 30, I have been thinking of Clinton, Indiana—seven miles from where I grew up. As memories of this annual festival (which began in 1966) fill my head, I ponder the Coal Town Museum and the many coal mines that dotted the hills and fields of west-central Indiana. Thus, I dug into my poetry mine and found this poem which I wrote on May 15-16, 2012, and which was inspired by the old mine that bordered the east side of our property in Blanford. Our neighbor Margie did tell us a story about a horse that had worked at the small mine in the early 1900s. In this poem, fact and fiction are intertwined.

In a Dream Came the White, Mine Horse

by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In a dream came the white horse

whose story Margie told.

The massive, milky white horse

who had worked at the coal mine

that bordered our property line

galloped gracefully into my dream

to tell me the stories

of the turn-of-the-century mines,

the Indiana mines of the early 1900s, and much more.

Born in Italy, in 1879, my grandfather–

who, despite his 6’1”-height,

worked the mines for too many years–

insisted with only a light Italian accent and a couple of tears,

“None of my four sons will ever set foot

in a coal mine.”

None did.

Yet, the massive, milky white horse

from the old mine near my house

trots boldly into my dream.

“I know your story. Go away! Go away!

I do not have an apple nor hay for you,” I say.

He whinnies with laughter and does not obey.

The massive, milky white horse speaks in my dream,

“Don’t you know I eat coal dust?

Do you know why my eyes are yellow?

Because from all those miners,

I caught the lust for gold.”

He whinnies with laughter, and my body turns cold.

“Forget this pretense of the present tense,” I snap.

“Margie told me you drowned in that old pond—

the pond, near the shale hill, our mountain.”

“Oh, so, you do know why I am

so massive and milky white.”

“If you had really worked in the mine,

you wouldn’t be so tall and white.

Just go! Go, and let me sleep.”

“Listen, I was not always a horse of twenty hands;

as a colt, I was a white or cream.

Of course, when I worked, I grew gray and black

from the ever-present coal dust.

How that life weighed down my back!

But, after all those years

of washing in that old pond,

I turned a milky white

so that I could take flight

into your dream to tell you:

lobby against Cavallo Coal Company—

they will blast and scrape and sour

your pretty, little town.”

I lie back down, but cannot sleep.

Wiping coal dust from my eyes, I begin to weep.

Post-script: Although Zoe and I will not be in Clinton for the Little Italy Festival this year, I hope that many of the readers of this blog will enjoy the Coal Town Museum, Coal Fountain, pasta, Italian Cream Cake, grape ice, spumoni, Italian singing, polka dancing, grape stomping, and all that is celebrated throughout Labor Day Weekend, along the banks of the Wabash River, during Clinton’s Little Italy Festival.


August 24, 2013, Saturday


From → Uncategorized

  1. Thank you for your fascinating poem about a long-forgotten story, Alice. I can remember looking at that pond wondering if the old white horse would float to the surface. The thought was spooky to me then and remains so now.
    Love, Mary

    • Thanks, Mary, for your comment. I wonder from whom Margie first heard this tale of the white horse. Best wishes for a good school year! AJM & Zoe

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