“Teena’s Story (for Don West)” by Bob Henry Baber

“Teena’s Story (for Don West)”

By Bob Henry Baber

Dad started to work in the mines
before he was fifteen.
He lied to get in.
He was impressive: 6'4", dark skinned,
and Italian looking —
the kind of man you noticed in the crowd,
especially if you were a woman.
That's what mamma always said.

They had seven girls together 
and filed for divorce seven times!
Once for each, Daddy always said.
In hindsight every one of them reconciliations
net them a baby girl!
After we grew up Dad'd jokingly say,
"If I'd've saved all I spent on toilet paper
and Kotex
I'd be a millionaire today!"

When I was little he seemed as strong
as the mountains,
but after a shuttle buggy busted loose
and ran over top of him,
breaking his back in four places,
he just wasn't the same.

They bound him together with copper wire
and sent him home to my pregnant mother to care for.
Back then they didn't have disability,
so it wasn't days after he crawled out of bed
till he was back in the mines drawing pay in dirt.

I remember when he came home he'd lay down
hit the floor with his head and softly moan,
trying to relieve the pressure on his aching bones.
Sometime I'd sit beside him and stroke his hair.
He'd smile back at me, and black creases
would gather like crows
around the corners of his cornfield eyes.

It wasn't too many years later
that he began to suffer from shortness of breath.
The doctors determined he was eat up
with Black Lung.
He tried for years thereafter to get benefits
but with no luck.
Fortunately we did have land
and were able to grow most of what we ate —
family and friends provided for the rest.
Daddy never would accept food stamps,
mountain pride prevented that.

He finally got his Black Lung.
On his way to pick up the check at the lawyer's
he got broadsided by a truck.
They all went over the hill together.
Witnesses said he was crushed by block coal
spilled from the wreck,
and died within minutes of internal injuries.
"Coal" was the last word he lipped.

                      *    *    *  

As you tell this story, Teena,
you are Appalachia
stripped to dauntless truth —

             your tenderness at once
                     your downfall 
                           & your salvation:

                           the Amazing Grace
              of a mineral world turned so grim and hard
              only mine mascara tears running down cheeks
                           can redeem it.

from “A Picture From Life’s Other Side: Appalachian Poems” by Bob Henry Baber

Bob Henry Baber fought like a tiger for Richwood’s’s flooded schools destroyed by the 2016 Thousand Year Flood (akin to east Kentucky’s recent disaster). In his first term as mayor he helped secure the growth of the Cranberry Wilderness and 4 million in grants. His novel, “Pure Orange Sunshine,” chronicles a riot started in LA in 1971 by agent provocateurs, during which he was shot and jailed. 

NOTE TO READERS: Since its founding in May 2020, WestVirginiaVille.com (a project of AmpMediaProject.com), has been a free online magazine of lively, opinionated & alternative writing and imagery about West Virginia. Help us stay in the business of offering ad-free, worthy content. CLICK HERE OR THE ‘DONATE’ BUTTON TO SUPPORT THE CAUSE.


Leave a Reply