A Coal Miner Remembers His Canaries

October 19, 2009

Pa said not to do this-name birds and such—but he’s gone  fourteen years now and I do mostly as I please.

We weren’t much for sparrows or ‘keets. We were canary people, long as I can remember. They died quick—first whiff of that bad air. Sparrows were fighters, and my people liked an early alarm.

  • Little Dan. He was my first. Birds don’t sing much in mines, but I whistled him up good and he gave me a note or two.
  • Captain Whitmore. Meanest canary ever caged. Like a goat been slapped on the mouth.
  • Lumiere. Only French Pa ever taught me. Means bear.
  • Liza. I put her in a doll dress and told her to “make my damn dinner.” She liked that.
  • Roland. Should’ve learned with Liza that you can’t put a bird in your pocket, then jump off your roof. Roland never saw the mines.
  • Pig. He wasn’t fat, just loved to roll in his shit.
  • Wynona. Unlike Pa, she understood me. I’d say, “Why I gotta be a person? Why ain’t we off in a nest somewhere?”
  • Jonah. That bird wanted to die. We did him a favor.
  • Stonewall Jackson. Sacrilege, of course. I called him Sherman in front of Pa, which was the only name allowed.


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