The Coal Picker

by Amy Lowell

Amy Lowell

He perches in the slime, inert,

Bedaubed with iridescent dirt.

The oil upon the puddles dries

To colours like a peacock's eyes,

And half-submerged tomato-cans

Shine scaly, as leviathans

Oozily crawling through the mud.

The ground is here and there bestud

With lumps of only part-burned coal.

His duty is to glean the whole,

To pick them from the filth, each one,

To hoard them for the hidden sun

Which glows within each fiery core

And waits to be made free once more.

Their sharp and glistening edges cut

His stiffened fingers. Through the smut

Gleam red the wounds which will not shut.

Wet through and shivering he kneels

And digs the slippery coals; like eels

They slide about. His force all spent,

He counts his small accomplishment.

A half-a-dozen clinker-coals

Which still have fire in their souls.

Fire! And in his thought there burns

The topaz fire of votive urns.

He sees it fling from hill to hill,

And still consumed, is burning still.

Higher and higher leaps the flame,

The smoke an ever-shifting frame.

He sees a Spanish Castle old,

With silver steps and paths of gold.

From myrtle bowers comes the plash

Of fountains, and the emerald flash

Of parrots in the orange trees,

Whose blossoms pasture humming bees.

He knows he feeds the urns whose smoke

Bears visions, that his master-stroke

Is out of dirt and misery

To light the fire of poesy.

He sees the glory, yet he knows

That others cannot see his shows.

To them his smoke is sightless, black,

His votive vessels but a pack

Of old discarded shards, his fire

A peddler's; still to him the pyre

Is incensed, an enduring goal!

He sighs and grubs another coal.