by Regina R. Drasher
I wrote “Little One” many years ago after much research. As a school girl, I remember my Nanie telling me she witnessed miners carrying little boys home after work, oftentimes asleep. I was heartbroken over the way patchtown boys lived. Having a little boy of my own at the time, it hit me hard and was the impetus for this poem.
Little one, I did not give birth to you for this,
Carried through the chill air in your Papa’s arms
Every morning to the breaker
The sleep still clinging to the corners of your eyes
Your head on Papa’s shoulder, you wave your tiny hand.
I watch Papa trudge down the street
‘Til he turns the corner from my sight.
When I call you, ‘little one’, my first born,
You become more indignant than your years justify.
“I’m a man Mama!” you cry,
“I work the breaker, I earn a dollar-fifty a week!”
Sometimes you stamp your foot ever so slightly
And I overlook your disrespect from my own shame.
Little one, I love you so.
It seems only last year you suckled at my breast
And I whispered, “Little baby, my little baby
You’ll not grow up in the breaker.
You’ll not grow up in the breaker my little baby.”
Papa and I did not sleep the night before.
The dread of that first morning prodded us mercilessly.
I lay as quiet as I could, tho I wanted
To go and scrub my anger into the kitchen floor.
But I did not want to disturb my “working men”,
As you called yourself and Papa,
You would need your sleep.
And Papa. I did not want to add my torment to his.
That first morning when Papa gathered you up in his arms
You smiled so eagerly through sleeps cobwebs.
You were so proud, made him put you down,
(Other mornings would come, you would welcome carryin’.)
“I’m a big boy, Papa. I’ll walk.”
You weren’t gone far when the fog took you.
Yet I remained on the stoop, trying to hold you in my gaze.
Tears coursed down my cheeks as I tried to force you back into sight.
I wanted to cry out, “No, little one, NO!” and run down the street
Through the tangle of men converging on the colliery
And scoop you into my arms and carry you home safe with me.
Instead, I hurried into the house
Where your brothers and sisters asked, “What’s wrong, Mama?”
That night, little one, when you trudged back home, black-faced,
White chicken tracks running away from your eyes,
Weariness had replaced the sparkle
But your smile flashed against the darkness when you saw me
Waiting on the stoop. You broke from the others, running.
“Mama! Mama! Your breaker boy’s home!”
You shouted the last few feet, not noticing
The smiles of the homeward bound miners.
I bent to hug you, but was halted by a reproving, “Mama!”
You fell asleep at supper table, Papa carried you to bed.
It was that night, as I lay awake in bed
I heard your Papa cry for the first time.
He lay away from me, on his side.
Clutching his pillow tight to his face.
I did not hear him so much as felt
The trembling of his back and shoulders.
His tears flowed silently.
The next day I sat his pillow in an open windows’ sun.
But that first night, Papa cried, then got up and swore in whispers
“Curse these arms that cannot provide for my family,
But would carry my own boy to the breaker!”
“Patrick, oh Patrick, no!” I cried. I went to stand
Beside him at the window. “You do no more than the others!”
“Ah, Katie,” he sobbed, gathering me into his arms”
“Your own heart went with him to the breaker this morning.
It surely aches more than mine.
You – who gave him life – You try to spare me!
Where, where are all my grand plans?” he sobbed against my hair.
“I was going to give you and our children better than this!”
He clutched a fistful of my hair, then pushed me from him, ashamed.
It was the first night we spent away from each other.
We needed each other, but shame kept us apart.
Papa appeared in the kitchen that second morning,
And I never asked him where he was.
He said’ “Don’t fret, I’m faithful to ye.”
“I didn’t,” I whispered, then added as always
“Tho it would be so easy for such a handsome man.”
Papa smiled for a minute,
Then the torment claimed his eyes once more.
And he went into the front room
Lifted you, sleeping, from the bed you shared with your brothers,
Carried you near the stove and whispered you awake.
“C’mon lad. Time for the breaker boy to have his breakfast.
Us working men need a good start.”
And it began again.
Little one. Oh, my little one!
I love you so!
©Regina R. Drasher
Regina R. Drasher is a writer and performer who was greatly influenced by stories she heard from her “Nanie” and parents when she was growing up. With a special interest in local/anthracite and WWII history, she is known for her well-researched portrayals of Big Mary and Mrs. Sullivan. A lifelong resident of Drums, she lives in her grandparents house there. She has a son, William, who proudly served his country in the Marine Corps (Iraq) and later, the Army Reserves.
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