There are only a few left, he says,
kept by old Welsh miners, souvenirs,
like gallstones or gold teeth, torn
from this "pit," so cold and wet
my breath comes out a soul up
into my helmet's lantern beam,
anthracite walls running, gleaming,
and the floors iron-rutted with tram tracks,
the almost pure rust that grows and waves
like orange moss in the gutters of water
that used to rise and drown.
He makes us turn all lights off, almost
a mile down. While children scream,
I try to see anything, my hand touching
my nose, my wife beside me—darkness
palpable, like a velvet sack over our heads,
even the glow of watches left behind.
This is where they were born, into
this nothing, felt first with their cold noses
for the shaggy side and warm bag of black milk,
pulled their trams for twenty years
through pitch, past birds that didn't sing,
through doors opened by five-year-olds
who sat in the cheap, complete blackness
listening for steps, a knock.
And they died down here, generation
The last one, when it dies in the hills,
not quite blind, the mines closed forever,
will it die strangely? Will it wonder
dimly why it was exiled from the rest
of its race, from the dark flanks of the soft
mother, what these timbers are that hold up
nothing but blue? If this is the beginning
of death, this wind, these stars?
From Selected Poems (Future Cycle Press, 2014). Reprinted by permission of the poet.
When my wife woke from four months
of coma after a “massive” stroke,
with chances of recovery “minimal,”
and we had finally flown home
in a tiny jet around the polar horn
of Swansea, Cardiff, Reykjavik, Goose
Bay, Toronto, Cleveland, Youngstown,
I sat by her wheelchair in a class
like a kindergarten where kids of all ages
cut colored cloth, stacked blocks,
and pieced puzzles like a map
of the world. When they shook their heads
to lament how she couldn’t remember
anything or speak, I wrote
on a big pad in crayon, “Let us go
then you and I.”
After she had read it aloud,
she went on in her whispery voice
to chant, eyes closed, the rest
of the poem from memory while
the rehab staff in their green
and blue scrubs gathered around
and stood open-mouthed as something
odd and unintelligible, yet
somehow strangely familiar,
came to them from a far place,
deep and dark where she had been,
beyond the reach of light and love.
In 2008, Greenway's poem "Eurydice" appeared in the anthology After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events, which featured 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations.
Interview with William Greenway
How did you come to write the poem "Eurydice"?
It began after my wife’s stroke and subsequent two-month coma while we were in Wales on sabbatical.
How did writing "Eurydice" affect your recovery?
All through this trauma, I wrote poems as prayer, believing, as I always have, that poetry taps into a power outside of ourselves as well as inside. Both give us strength we don’t know we have or have access to until the trauma comes along.
Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped "Eurydice" come to life?
Because I keep a journal, I’m able to objectify my experiences enough to get past mere self-pity and sentimentality and leave a sort of vacuum of emotion to draw in the reader’s emotions. I try not to hog all the feeling, and let the reader have some.
Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?
William Stafford, William Matthews, Dylan Thomas, Philip Larkin, Sharon Olds.
What are you working on now?
Whatever comes my way. My life seems to follow paths that eventually become patterns that then become the organization of a book. My latest book is titled Tripwires, about those upheavals—some good, some bad—that we never see coming, but that change our lives, and us, irrevocably.
Greenway's collection Everywhere at Once (2008) won the Ohioana Poetry Book of the Year Award, as did his Ascending Order (2003), both from the University of Akron Press. He has published in Poetry, American Poetry Review, Georgia Review, Southern Review, Shenandoah, and Prairie Schooner. He has won the Helen and Laura Krout Memorial Poetry Award, the Larry Levis Editors' Prize from Missouri Review, the Open Voice Poetry Award from The Writer's Voice, the State Street Press Chapbook Competition, an Ohio Arts Council Grant, and was 1994 Georgia Author of the Year. He’s Professor of English at Youngstown State University, where he has been awarded a Distinguished Professorship in Teaching and three in Scholarship.