Samson by Diane Gilliam Fisher

Pillars is the walls of coal you leave
between rooms while you working
the rooms
Boss had me explain it
to the Big Boss come down from Boston
on the train to lay eyes on things.
Boss didn’t call me by my name,

just holler, Come on over here, son.
Bragged how big I is, how strong
a colored boy get when he shovel and haul.
Didn’t ask me how my eye got gone?
coal shot out when I was pillar-drawing.
Didn’t ask my name, neither one.

I played along. Yessir, I told them,
them pillars is coal, they can get sold.
We come back in when the rooms is all mined
and pull them down, we don’t leave nothing
behind. I’ve knowed three men’s died that way,
nothing left of them but their names

roof don’t hold too long without no walls.
Bosses begin to edge back toward the hall.
I stood in their way. With my right hand
I pressed one pillar, the other with my left.
I explained To the mountain we all the same.
I pressed harder, and I told them my name.

I found this poem at Of Appalachia and Coal Miners: in memory of those killed in coal mining accidents in January, 2006. Let us hope that the coal miners in Utah do better.

What is your favorite coal mining poem?

5 Responses to “Samson by Diane Gilliam Fisher”

  1. Joffan says:

    I’ll throw an English folk song in:


    It’s in the evening after dark,
    When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
    With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
    There goes the blackleg miner!

    Well he grabs his duds and down he goes
    To hew the coal that lies below,
    There’s not a woman in this town-row
    Will look at the blackleg miner.

    Oh, Delaval is a terrible place.
    They rub wet clay in the blackleg’s face,
    And around the heaps they run a foot race,
    To catch the blackleg miner!

    So, dinna gang near the Seghill mine.
    Across the way they stretch a line,
    To catch the throat and break the spine
    Of the dirty blackleg miner.

    They grab his duds and his pick as well,
    And they hoy them down the pit of hell.
    Down you go, and fare you well,
    You dirty blackleg miner!

    Oh, it’s in the evening after dark,
    When the blackleg miner creeps to work,
    With his moleskin pants and dirty shirt,
    There goes the blackleg miner!

    So join the union while you may.
    Don’t wait till your dying day,
    For that may not be far away,
    You dirty blackleg miner!


    It’s a rough and dirty business, mining, and the human cost is high in all sorts of ways.

  2. Karen Street says:


    Much thanks!

    I heard a doctor say that all underground coal miners have black lung disease, but some don’t die of it. (Is this true?)

    The human cost is high.

  3. I tend to think more of songs than of poems –

    – “Sixteen Tons (Company Store)” by Tennessee Ernie Ford
    – “Coal Miner’s Daughter” by Loretta Lynn
    – “Muhlenberg County” by John Prine

    I think the best song is “Muhlenberg County” in the original John Prine version. It’s sad and wistful and laments Mr. Peabody’s coal shovel and the land forsaken.

  4. Karen Street says:


    Thanks for your suggestions, especially the Prine one which was new to me.

    Now the Chinese are giving up hope for more than 170 coal miners, in a country that kills thousands of miners every year just from accident, presumably many more due to black lung disease.

    The flooding occurred after more than nine inches of rain fell in an “extreme precipitation event” of the sort predicted by climate change models.

  5. Judy Tart says:

    These coal-mining poems put me in mind of those folk songs I used to sing… and the folk and bluegrass my sister and her husband still sing… so after trading poems and songs with my sister, I ran across this website… Still more reasons to find something else than coal to generate power.