Wednesday, June 9, 2010

6.9.2010 - pecanthracite

I'm sprouting gray hairs. Actually, they're white, an opalescent pearly white like the inside of a good seashell. I'm not thirty yet, but there were a dozen or so white hairs growing out of my head this morning when I looked in the mirror.

I plucked them out, at least the ones I could find. When I go gray, it will be very dignified and attractive, but I'd like to wait if I can. I like my original color, and it don't come in a bottle. It is the color of pecans, with a touch of cinnamon, over a base of anthracite. Pecanthracite, if you will.

I've been thinking about coal. Anthracite, once that shit starts burning it will burn until it runs out. There's a town called Centralia, Pennsylvania, that can tell you all about that. A fire started in a mine there, fifty years back -- it's still burning, and it will burn for another two hundred and fifty years, until the coal runs out.

Nine people live in Centralia, give or take. Smoke rises out of giant cracks in the ground, in the roads -- the roads are all closed, the highway shut down and rerouted, and all but five of the houses have been taken away, leaving just their footprints and the ghosts of streets in fields and a new-growth forest. 

We tried to go there once, but didn't make it all the way in. Maybe it was the foreboding of doom, the peril of travel, or the sense of our own mortality, but we had to mourn and then turn back. 
But I've read all about it, as much as I could get my hands on, and looked at all the pictures I could find. I've yet to watch the films, but I am a minor scholar on Centralia.

The town comes to me sometimes, the thoughts of burning earth and smoke belching up out of gaping maws in the ground, nothing left but roads cracking from the pressure of steam forcing its way out from beneath and the empty foundations of people's homes -- these things come to me sometimes with the weight of abandoned dreams.

Maybe I know something about that. A mine explosion blew my great-granddad, William Wagner, away in Muir, Pennsylvania, in the 1930s. Killed him a lot quicker than the blacklung that he was carrying around. His wife was named Annie. She stood four foot eleven, had four surviving kids, and spoke only Pennsylvania Dutch. Her middle surviving son was named Mark. They began a window-cleaning operation that got them through the Great Depression. My grandfather met a girl named Nancy, the daughter of a French-Canadian bootlegger, and married her. One of their children was my mother, also named Nancy, which means "Grace" -- and then there is me, Joy.

None of us really turned out okay. There are a lot of ghost towns in our history. Mark lost all his life savings in an investment scheme in the Eighties. One of his sons died early and the other is a raging bastard. My mother, bless her, is always broke and on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Me, I don't know, but I'm here alone with a four-stringed guitar and no money in the greatest city on Earth, writing about mine fires while my coal-colored hair prematurely turns pearly white.

My bloodline ends with me, so nobody will ever know where it would go after this, but maybe our poor luck and heavy dreams are like a coal fire that has been burning since long before Centralia, and will continue to burn until the entire seam's burnt out. Anthracite, that shit can burn forever.

- Thanks to Kieran Castagnola, whose correspondences prompted these thoughts to come out of me.