By Trish Reeves

After Lewis Hine



He would have to count the coal
piece by piece: this boy stone,
this boy slate, this boy a cloud
of soot standing in the shovel
chute close to the ceiling. Darkness,
he’d also have to allow for
darkness walking in form, in
hundreds and hundreds of boys,
billed caps, black smears of noses
and mouths the face
of fuel in Pennsylvania.

“Looking at labor,” he wouldn’t have to
spend every lump of his light
as the breaker boys on the black benches,
feet in slag
and coal clattering down
like 75 cents a day, a lamp on the cap
of the lucky lad.

He would, however,
spot the child’s bend in the backs
of all the boys, coats on, cold
work against the cold.

And, as he would depart
the blackened room of the boys,
tripod over his shoulder, one step
into the sun of the courtyard
he would see the air,

how different air looks when not weighted
with something other than itself,
and this he would show us—
the quality of life in a clear look.