The Iron Mountain Review Vol. XXXII
42 Baker, Bush, Harvey, House, Mitchell, Parson, & Shelby
are engaging in dialogue with the community, they open that conversation outward to then question and further that dialogue with audiences. That’s what I love about performance ethnography. But you might come to a storytelling performance. You might come to a festival. And you might hear these stories and hear that scholarship and have it penetrate in a way that story can do and that image can do through story that academic research never could. Representation has consequences. How people are represented is how they are treated. I wanted to share with you part of one story. This is not a story that I’ll tell as a part of the festival event in here. It picks up where the narrator has blasted into the new underground mining frame, and he’s come across fossils that are two hundred million years old that many miners have crossed. Listen: Them fossils were something to see. I mean, you just imagine this whole wall being nothing but covered in every type of fossil you could ever imagine, and sea pods this long and seeds as big as your—your hands put together. It was so beautiful. It’s so hard at the top. It’s like you just painted them on there. A few others in the shift come, and I didn’t want them to see me so fascinated with pictures in the rocks, so we set to work. Donsel, he was running that continuous miner machine. It’s a long, low to the ground machine. It’s got a rotor on the front of it with carbon steel teeth. And that rotor, it spins, and as it spins run by that remote control, well, those carbon steel teeth, they just dig into the face of that coal, digging out fresh coal. After we was done from work, we was cleaning up the room, a couple of the boys my age, we was fooling around, flicking rocks at one another. One took aim at Donsel, flicked one, and he didn’t move. Flicked another one; he didn’t turn around. We got up closer to him and right about that time, Donsel, he reached down and grabbed a big ole piece of grease, turned around and just smeared it all over his front, collected with the dust in the room to kind of make a paste. “Let’s set on back to work.” “Donsel, you don’t like that horseplay too much.” So we set to work, but Donsel he kept brushing his hat, saying, “Cut that out! Quit it!” He didn’t like that horseplay, but they wasn’t flicking rocks. And I thought I saw it, a trickle of dust start to come down from the ceiling, but the others hadn’t seen it. I thought I was just seeing things, but Donsel kept saying, “Cut that out! Quit it!” But then there was this rock it come out from the ceiling. It’s no higher than a table. You’re crawling in these tunnels. There’s a rock
that come out from the ceiling and it plunked down on his cap and it busted his cap light out. I didn’t know what was happening. The foreman, he took me by the shoulders and pulled me and him into another room and this huge boom and it was like nothing I’d ever heard before and I sat up from where we landed and I saw that whole roof had just collapsed in on top of them. The whole chute. I was the only one left. Me and the foreman. I know what Donsel had told me. There was rock falls and they was deadly, but I just couldn’t help myself. I just kept going over there pulling rocks off, hollering, “Donsel! Donsel!” The foreman he’s a-hollerin’ for help. He took him a couple boys and started tunneling out towards that—that continuous miner machine. I remembered where he had been when his cap light had went off, and the tunnel took hours. About ten hours later, it was my turn to go down into that tunnel. I crawled through. I picked up a rock, “Donsel.” He had his face pushed up against that miner machine. He had an air pocket in there, that’s how he’s kept alive, but all the rest of that rock was over his body, his arms pinned underneath him. He could just barely *gasp* suck *gasp* in *gasp* the air. We worked hard. We got all that rock off of him, got all of it off except for one leg. And then I started to see that single trickle of dust. It started to come down. And the whole thing was just starting to riv-roll back on top of him again. The story goes on. Donsel lives. There’s a second fall. Donsel lives. He has seventy-some injuries where his— this is all true—where his arms were pinned underneath him. He lost circulation. His arms were amputated except for six inches, but he was alive. And the way I have this story—that narrator is a composite character created from about twenty different miners I interviewed. Donsel’s story is one that I tell that comes from a mining training video. The reason why I wanted to share it with you today is that miners watch these videos that the companies produce. You can see in his video how the company wanted so badly to construct a narrative where it was Donsel’s fault that this had happened. They would flip back and forth from this oral history interview where Donsel was sitting on his front porch in a swinging chair with his wife—just tears running down her face—and he’s narrating about his story, and you can see them speaking his agency into that story. He still hunts. He still goes out in the woods with his friends.
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