Clyde Kessler

Coal Once

I warped back home ninety summers
before I was born, before the north valley train
swelled against trees during a drought, before
the marsh birds haunted their wings with wolves.
I think my grandfather was drunk or had swallowed
lightning, or had imagined his release from prison
as a sign of rain, a synonym for the body in one room
and the mind along the canal road, praying, prying
lifting voices from bread that had molded, but tasted
like heaven’s own wild, swirling feast. And this was
not even where he lived. His story was sunk in coal.
His language left him. He shepherded a machine
through slate rock like a worm, or something burning.
He couldn’t see that I had warped there into his time.
He thought I must be another striker who had given up,
kissed the foreman’s shadow, eaten breakfast in dust,
or had been raised like a soft pillow turned almost
human. I wanted to say grandfather. I wanted to
hand him money, real money, easy money, a stash
that would feel like the face of God placed there
in his mind, far from his home. It was like a human
shadow in Virginia. There was a laugh. It was like
water washing the coal, always sloshing and echoing
and growing and bending into a house. That was where
I forgot who I might have been, had I been real then.


Editor’s Note:
Who knows what you will find when you are mining for your ancestors. The narrator visits his grandfather in a time-warp situation and discovers something about himself. The grandfather was “lifting voices from bread that had molded,” and “His story was sunk in coal./His language left him.” It’s the narrator’s turn now to give the language/voice to the grandfather.


Clyde Kessler lives in Radford, VA with his wife Kendall and their son Alan. In 2017 Cedar Creek published his book Fiddling At Midnight’s Farmhouse, which Kendall illustrated.

One thought on “Clyde Kessler”

  1. I love the anaphora of ‘before’ that drags the reader back over the images to other details. The generous use of gerunds, brings all the action to the fore despite the ‘pastness’ of that activity. A shadow of rancor seems to lurk under the poignancy of the speaker’s wish for the grandfather, as if, there are no doubts about his character, but love will abide. Lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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