Hilda Downer, Battle at Blair Mountain

Hilda Downer

A harsh truth in childhood:
who has the most money
to have the most soldiers

Those plastic green men are formidable,
deadpan faces staring in panic
at not being able to move a finger,
feet captured in puddles of fear.
Redundant postures march awkward
up a steep bank the way
an old commercial showed a truck
could power straight up a mountainside
by tilting the picture so hemlocks,
almost horizontal, speared the sky.

The bomber squad over Blair Mountain
endorsed the same green configuration
of ground troops scaling rock and ridge –
1921: the United States at civil war
with the Appalachian people.
Though one bomb did not explode,
the big guns of poverty and displacement
continue the genocide today
with each subtraction
of another coal-seamed mountain range,
adding up to more fire power
than “Little Boy”
on Hiroshima.

Still emulating gunfire,
little boys are gathered for sleep,
hard soldiers in a pile
like pieces that do not fit what is broken –
alert to ambush bare feet.
Only a few remain on the battlefield,
the solar warmth they hold
quickly draining.
Never having been alive
does not stop their grim stare
into the shotgun barrel of the full moon.

Bio: Born in Bandana, NC, Hilda Downer is a professor of English at Appalachian State University


3 thoughts on “Hilda Downer, Battle at Blair Mountain

  1. So much going on in this poem. Here is a bit about Blair Mountain from Wikipedia:

    The Battle of Blair Mountain was one of the largest civil uprisings in United States history and the largest armed rebellion since the American Civil War.[1] For five days in late August and early September 1921, in Logan County, West Virginia, some 10,000 armed coal miners confronted 3,000 lawmen and strikebreakers, called the Logan Defenders,[2] who were backed by coal mine operators during an attempt by the miners to unionize the southwestern West Virginia coalfields.

    The most important part is in the third stanza: “poverty and displacement continue the genocide today,” but of course, the genocide has expanded to involve and include the natural world through the practice of mountain top removal and now fracking.

    Brilliant poem.

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