by Ellen LaFleche
We were not, as the story goes, dwarfs. We were working men, humped from all those years in the coal mines. Even when we slept, our hands gripped the pick-axe and lantern. Forget our lungs, our hacking coughs. Every morning we rode the box car deep into the ground. We smelled the musky earth, the bitter stink of the coal. The lumps of anthracite powered the palace. Smoke poured in choking clouds from the royal towers. Once upon a time there was no environmental protection. No amalgamated workers’ union. Our little cottage was a barracks. Seven metal beds. Seven chairs, a rough-hewn table. Poor Snow White. All day long she swept the coal dust. Washed grimy soot from the windows. Who could blame her for craving a strip of colorful ribbon? For tasting a wedge of that red, red apple? When Snow White died, we couldn’t stand to bury her in mine-ravaged earth. We built the glass coffin. Then the prince came, his white horse clopping. His coachmen were carrying Snow White down the slag heap when the earth jumped. The apple flew out of Snow’s throat like a champagne cork. The prince proposed marriage before Snow had time for a post-Heimlich breath. We were happy for Snow White, true, but we had little time to celebrate. The mine had collapsed. We joined the rescue team, hi ho, hi ho. The chances of finding survivors were slim. We knew that. But still we dug. Inch by inch we dug.
Ellen LaFleche is the author of three chapbooks: Workers' Rites (Providence Athenaeum), Beatrice (Tiger's Eye Press) and Ovarian (Dallas Poets Community Press). She won the Tor House Poetry Prize, the New Millennium Poetry Prize, the Hunger Mountain Prize, and the Joe Gouveia Outermost Poetry Prize. She is an assistant judge for the North Street Book Prize and a freelance editor. She is currently finishing a manuscript tentatively titled Walking into Lightning with a Metal Urn in My Hands, a collection of poems following the death of her husband to ALS.