Poem: Black Diamond Banks


They were big, ugly, dangerous,
and ubiquitous to us. Black piles
of sandy slag, hundred foot high
hills of grief daring us
to climb to the top, for no reason,
sometimes at our own peril.

This stuff was soft like black, dry
quicksand. My foot would sink
and the slag would rise above my ankle,
sometimes to my knees,
allowing the scree into my shoes.
Each step was a challenge.
Maybe that’s why we climbed,
for the challenge, the thrill, the view,
perhaps the danger.
We’d been warned not to go.

Sometimes culm banks caught fire.
Children fell into their sink holes
and suffocated. Anthracite coal
was the black diamonds of the barons,
deadly job resources for citizens.
All overlooked, denied, or shrugged-off,
both human exploitation and environmental
degradation. They were witnesses
to the need and to the greed.

I didn’t know it then,
most of the world’s anthracite
coal supply was crushed by eons
of pressure beneath my feet. It was also
why we were there: the sons, daughters,
and grands of the men who built the banks.


Look both ways with two perspectives, theirs and ours.
Mind the gaps as you watch for the traps.

One of several historical societies in Northeastern PA is the Luzerne County Historical Society