The Cage Incident
Twelve thirty PM—noon shift
Pit canteen—dinner—mug of tea
Pop in to shop—for chewing ’baccer
A tin of snuff—last cigarette—’til we ride the pit
From the start of the shift—once we walk on to The Cage
Our lives—in danger
Threatened—from the beginning
Should you not pack an ounce of fear
You’re just not right in the head! The Pit is lethal!
Danger—every step we take! Always—we are conscious—of that!
From the pit canteen—pit shop to the bathhouse
Strip off—one last cigarette—conversions—jokes—pit banter
Put on our orange overalls—leather—steel-capped boots—white helmets
Fill our Dudleys with water—hope it will see us through the shift
We walk across the pit yard—to the lamp cabin
From the lamp cabin—to the winding house
Cracking jokes—we go across the Pit Yard
Towards our fate
The sun shines above us
As if the sun is—pitying us?
As if like the sun knows what awaits us down there—below—her rays
Shining—down—warming us—a temptress—is the sun!
Tempting us to turn around—head away—from where we’re heading
From where we were going to—from—what we we’re going to!
To where the sun had not shone down for hundreds of thousands of years
Could well be millions—for all we know—or care there much
Think of us dressed in our bright orange overalls—we reluctantly walk
Some say, “Fook it! Turn back!”—well—that’s it for them!
The temptress sun won out—at least—over—two or three!
Well to The Welfare Club—then catch the day bus back home!
Tatty—torn—ripped—stained with oil—grease—are our orange overalls
From the shifts we’d completed
Survived—that week—down The Pit
Lamps fixed—attached to our white helmets
Helmets—showing clear evidence of The Pit—uncertainty
Evidence—of being hit—somer’t – solid—hitting our helmets!
Some hang lamp cabals—around our necks
Batteries and self-rescuers on our belts
Self-rescuers—a device—should fire break out
Always a probability!
Time and conditions allowing
Lads—trained—to remove helmets—pull of the lid
Off the metal steel box—affix—the device over nose and mouth
Device—purifies—the air we breath—well, breathable air!
Forty five minutes to walk out—to safety
Providing we are able to walk—walk to—Pit Bottom
The most experienced collier could make the wrong decision
Go in, “Bye!” And perish
The Pit would be total blackness—lamps would be of little use
Reveal—show—nothing—only dust—coal and stone—flickers
So we hope self-rescuers will not be needed that day
Black leather steel-capped boots—carry us—as each step we take
Takes us closer to—The Cage!
Idle chat—jokes—pit banter—some even funny!
Walk towards the winding house—to The Cage
Across—The Pit Yard
Three decks—thirty five men to a deck—that will take us down
We each hand over our brass riding check to the banksman—for the records
We have two—one we kept—each one has our pit number—stamped
A mile below ground—Kent’s green and pleasant land
In to a world that not even Dante could’ve imagined
Take us down—down—down—to Hades! Man-made hell—under Kent
We give our ridding brass token to the on-siter
Walk on to The Cage
When each man is on—the gates are pulled shut—shutting us in
We hear the sound of bell tolling twice—signalling, “Going in, bye.”
Some chat—others crack jokes—others are quiet
Then suddenly—without warning—the cage drops!
Out of control! All goes quiet now—so quiet—the hearts beat—faster
No panic—that—goes on inside our minds—minds frozen—with fear!
I swear I could hear the speeding hearts—beating—blood pumping—heavy breathing
All are thinking, “Is this it?”
Most—trying not to think! Minds trying to blank
Out thoughts! Stop—thinking!
The Cage plunders down—down—towards—the sump—the very bottom
Of the Pit—Hades—awaits us all—certain death—to embrace us all in death!
Total silence—The Cage—drops us—ever downwards—to Hades
Will The Cage ever stop? Before it crashes into a twisted—bloody heap
Its human cargo broken—a pile of broken bones—lifeless—bodies
Thigh bones—leg bones—shin bones—foot bones—forced—through our yielding
Soft flesh—our blood—released—mixing with the coal and stone dust—oil and grease
Stagnant—water—oh, what a stench—down there—where we’re going to perish—down—there!
Of the impact—the revolting mess—that would be—us—I know of that
I’d read of such an “incident”—I hoped none of the lads had!
Then as suddenly—The Cage—stops its deadly plunge—emergency braking
System—applied—it—works! Thank fook!
All the lads were very—very quiet—each—still in fear of what
Could’ve been—our ending that day!
A lad snaps out of his fear—(that were me!)
Says to one and all:
“Don’t know about you lads, but I’ve just dyed me orange overalls a deep brown from the inside!”
A spontaneous cry of “You bastard!”—broke the silence!
Yes—a brown trouser moment!
We had survived—something—rather nasty
An electrician had been working on the wiring—above—caused the trip
With his booted foot
The emergency braking system kicked in
Saving us from certain misfortune—oblivion—death!
The Cage Incident—never made it into the news—as no one died—that day!
© 2011 Ken D. Williams
The Dyslexic Wordsmith.