My father's white shirt falls
a black and rushing mass
down the dark throat of our house.
In the basement below
the promise of soft cotton
racing toward my upturned face,
the cool slate floor
hard against my stocking feet.
Through the opening above me
the arms unfold.
I stand draped in aftershave,
the empty shape of his embrace.
From three floors above,
my brothers' muted laughter
tumbles like an afterthought
down the narrow passage.
When my brother played the starving boy
trapped inside a well
I lowered tiny carrot sticks
carefully with twine
until their shapes were swallowed
by the yawning darkness.
One night my parents in the blue glow of evening news
watched women from West Virginia
wail and crumple in their grief--
sons and husbands trapped in black tunnels
deep inside the earth.
I climbed the third floor stairs,
padding slowly through the darkness
hooked my finger through the trap door's ring
and pulled the clothes chute open.
Down the wooden shaft
dust drifted like prayer.
I listened for the sound
of breathing from below.
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