William Pitt Root
The Old Hand

After a few days underground
without freaking out or falling
forever down a killer shaft,
they figured we might last so
we were turned over to an old-timer
whose boulder of a body
hunched round the doublejack
he showed us how to wield. His
hair was the wild worn silver
of the hammerhead in his hand.
He found us amusing
and had each of the three of us
take a couple whacks at rocks
which chipped but did not sunder.
Us with our young muscles,
him with his crooked look.
Then he took the doublejack,
tapped the biggest rock once
and swung cutting it clean.
We all looked at each other,
shook our heads and laughed.
It was defeat. "Thing's this,"
he said, aside. "Rock knows
where the breaks are
so you ask rock, politely.
Tap it gentle-like. It
maps the facturelines.
Tap, then watch the dust shift
and where it shows you, strike."
Easier said than done. But that's
one lesson I have never lost,
that and the crooked grin
made of an old man's iron.

© 1995 by William Pitt Root

William Pitt Root's many books of poems include, Reasons for Going It on Foot, Striking the Dark Air for Music and, most recently, Trace Elements. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Hunter College in Manhattan, to which he commutes from Tucson where he lives with his wife poet Pamela Uschuk.