“The first time I walked into a mine, I wanted to turn around and get out. But that wasn’t really an option, so I just kept going deeper and deeper into the mine. And I kept saying, couldn’t we just
turn around? But ah, it didn’t work out that way.” — Edison Peña, one of 33 Chilean miners rescued after 69 days trapped in a copper mine,
during an interview with David Letterman. Peña, who sang Elvis Presley songs in the mine to lift the spirits of the other miners, was rewarded with a visit to Elvis’ Graceland.
What we call poor must be more than a little red silt collected in the lungs, a harder kind of breathing. The men in the mines listen—their questions, the private ones they keep buried deeper than the shafts they sweat in, are answered only by their own voices, echoing back at them, the nervous laugh at a blue remark, reverberating through tunnels. Instead of a bird, yellow singing captive and sad in lamp-lit darkness, someone has brought his dog, a dirty white muzzle lying mostly in sleep. When the mutt sits up, barks at the flickering of shadows on stone walls, hacked and jagged, it’s not annoyance the men feel, but relief. They pause to gawk at the yellow teeth, to stare into the well of open mouth, to mutter, to close their eyes
and watch their women. They remember the breasts beneath the blouses, hands washing fine baby hair, cradling a soft skull, fingers dipping dishes into water, pulling shreds of meat from bones, peeling skin from fruit so much sweeter in absence, palms warming to cheek, chest, ridge of hipbone, all that touching. When the dog, the last huff and grumble of the dog, go dormant, the men turn back into their back-breaking work. One man hands a tool to another. The only human sounds breaching the damp air, ringing above the clanking and wheeling, are words. Is this what you wanted?
From BBC News, October 14, 2010: “the disaster that has gripped audiences globally also serves as a reminder of the dangers of working in a mine. . . . estimates suggest such accidents kill about 12,000 people a year.”
From Alan Baxter, a Fellow of the Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining: “. . . the mentality is that life is cheaper . . . no-one is going to kick up a fuss if they lose a few lives. People are not able to speak freely. If you make a nuisance then you won’t have a job,”