Coal Mine Canaries
By 1986, the British mining companies
released the last of the coal mine canaries.
Like many of its fellow proletarians,
automation stole the canary’s livelihood.
The mines installed digital noses to detect
the odorless spectre of carbon monoxide.
The canary union protested:
we do more than faint and warn
of impending death.
We sang for the miners, chirping
renditions of pop hits miles deep
where radio waves could not penetrate.
We were a flickering of the world above:
a beam of feathers shining through the crags.
But there was no use
fighting Margaret Thatcher in the 80s,
so the canaries read the classifieds
lining the bottom of their cages.
Some fluttered about Chernobyl
until the radiation made them molt,
and fall naked into the elephant’s foot.
They flew to the uranium mines,
but as they glowed ominously neon,
the unshielded miners shrugged
and kept digging.
Other canaries braved the flight
across the Atlantic to Washington DC
as the AIDS quilt was stitched
across the National Mall,
and began plummeting from the sky.
They flew to the White House
and startled Nancy Reagan,
crashing into her bedroom window.
She watched them in her nightgown,
as they one by one hit the glass
and scattered across the lawn.
When the janitor swept them into a heap,
she cracked a reassured smile
as he whistled slightly out of tune.
Coal Mine Canaries appears in my book Sentinel Species, now available from Stubborn Mule Press