Issue > Poetry
Rose McLarney

Rose McLarney

Rose McLarney’s collections of poems are Forage and Its Day Being Gone, from Penguin Books, and The Always Broken Plates of Mountains, from Four Way Books. She is co-editor of A Literary Field Guide to Southern Appalachia published by University of Georgia Press, and the journal Southern Humanities Review. Rose is Associate Professor of Creative Writing at Auburn University.

In the Gem Mine Capital of the World

In the Gem Mine Capital of the World,
stands lined the roads, selling buckets of red dirt

for visitors to sift through, wash on screens,
sloshing and staining their fingers and clothes,
lifting out stones.

The town's title was repeated
by billboards every few feet of highway.

This was home, familiar to me.
So I passed by the superlative claim
without thought of distinction or singularity.

The name meant nowhere else were there more
mines of this kind, inviting you to
bring a bag lunch, vending drinks and sunscreen.

Not that the land, or its miners' futures,
held much wealth.

Once, for a birthday party,
I mined a full morning and did not encounter
a single pebble that promised anything

(that had even slightly flattened sides—
the intimations of crystalline formations).

You could be sure of some glimmering result
only at the salted mines that mixed foreign rocks in.

It was all fraud. That's what someone thought.

Or, he got tired of sluices running into the river
(their muddy red), and seeing billboards.
Chain-sawed the posts, hauled the signs off
one night, 30-some years ago.

He gave back the view of the mountains,
faceted with shifting cloud shadow. Outshining
the 50-foot pictures of pointed rubies,
pinging painted sparkles.

Which is not to say mines didn't offer something:

Hope, childish as that I'd had. Witnessing
birthdays, girls turning ages I too was to reach,
unwrapping surprises with pleased shrieks.

Extending even to grown men.
Such as the one who uncovered a bit of green
—not a 7-Up bottle, after all—but a 65-carat emerald,
the size of the brooch of Catherine the Great.
The idea of greatness, brought in proximity to our lives.

And a $1000 reward for information
on the billboards' vandalization.

No one has collected that money yet.
Told down which road, behind which barn,
with green briar vines overgrowing,
the parts are still piled. No one

has been honest,
if that means to tell such a thing.

When I was young and mining, the end
of afternoon and the party were drawing near,
and everybody had treasure
(or at least a mineral that, uncut,
she could believe might be),

everybody except me.
My friend's father stopped
shaking his head in sympathy
and brought our final pails.

In the handful I took from the top
was an enormous crystal, a polished
and unnatural blue. I was happy,
and that was true.

Those who will mine nothing but
earth that is unaltered and pure
have their virtues.

While others, taking part in the fakery
of salting mines, do it so the flash
of a child's smile can be guaranteed.
And are as right

as the sign-cutter was,
setting his sights on high, un-excavated terrain.

I cannot say his name,
what makes a rock valuable,
and a jewel actual, or what the odds
of any search may be.

Leave some notions
(discoveries and riches remain)
buried in the mind.

There is no criminal
—what real fault?—
to find.


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