The lawyer for Hobet Mine Company called me to say that, by the time the home place was divided amongst all the living heirs, there’d barely be enough land for each of us to have space for our own graves. I was a newly-separated mother of three living far away in Texas, trying to scrape up enough money for daycare and my kids’ school lunches. I sold my share to Hobet for $178.
Twelve of my childhood summers unfolded in that holler, in the house of my dead daddy’s parents—the closest thing to home I knew. The last time I’d been there before the lawyer called, both my granny, grandpa and great-granny were already dead, and kudzu was snaking up the outside walls of their houses, threatening attic windows. That day, as I drove out of there, carrying photographs, old land deeds and one of my grandpa’s mine pay envelopes with a forgotten dime pressed into its corner, a gigantic construction crane loomed over the mountain like a creature in a Japanese sci-fi film.
That was twenty-odd years ago.
Now, on the King Coal Highway, time has been carved away from these mountains until there is too much space, too much sky. I find myself in another country, thinking that we are not meant to be navigating these mountaintops so effortlessly. We were never meant to be up here at all, so near the sun in restless, rarified air that has become a constant wind. It’s as if the churned up ground has surrendered its stories into an eternal sigh that worries the leaves of trees we cannot name. Let me lie down in these trembling grasses. Let the scouring wind find my skin. I will let the harsh sun burn me. I will listen for the pulse in the wound and answer it with my own.