Three Poems on the Sierra Minera

Author’s Note: These poems are about the Sierra Minera in Southern Spain, an old abandoned mining area with interesting remains. I live nearby.

Mina Balsa Depositaria

The steps down to this labyrinth are large
no problem for my feet as many are.
Miners who grew up in the job were small.

We mark our way with thread, these passages
confuse, recross and vanish into holes.
Amidst the dust and fallen fragile rock,
I see a different texture on a shelf:
an ancient espadrille, a miner´s shoe,
esparto grass plaited to make the soles,
the upper parts have rotted long ago.
This mine has not been worked for 20 years.
I wonder if its owner´s still alive.

My mind slips back a century and more.
A red-haired espadrille-maker performs
in singing cafes in La Unión.
The saddest of Flamenco´s forms is born.
Mineras still endure after the mines.
Their anguish lingers though the lifestyle´s gone.

Mina San Timoteo

A hole, just off an ancient mining road:
small step like ledges help you to descend,
and join the galleries that lie beneath,
crystal and barite strewn along your path.

Below, some narrow tree trunks have been cut
to serve as roof beams holding up a stack
of tons of rock. And one is half-dislodged
and seems as if a careless passing knock
might lever everything down in the mine.
We crawl beneath, avoid its deadly touch.

Yet further on, the better minerals lie.
Small crystals forming in the dusty walls:
gypsum so delicate it is renowned.
Touch and destroy. Even a careless breath
blows everything away before your eyes.
Only good luck can help you bring them out.

Túnel Jose Maestre

The hospital once filled with miners´ beds
now houses Roman artefacts,
relics from Portmán´s earlier, richer days.

Tucked in the hills behind, a tunnel lies,
named for the doctor of the place
who married cash then changed to politics.
(The palace that once housed his father-in-law,
a ruthless mine-owner, is ruined now,
The house of Tio Lobo, Uncle Wolf.)

A yellow lake laps at the tunnel´s mouth.
Outside its gates huge reeds block up the way.
A railway runs outside connecting it
dozens of wagons rusting on its rails.
Nature has given it a cargo now.
The pines above drop cones into these carts.
Decades ago they carried quarry spoils.
A teddy bear floats face down by the arch,
a growth of gypsum on its sodden head.

Across the months the yellow waters fall.
Eventually we wade our way inside.
Knee-deep in yellow slime our path is slow.
Our voices echo to the tunnel´s end.
We feel the rails beneath our wellies´ soles,
stepping from wood to wood we make our way.
sections of concrete, sections of bare rock,
boxes that once held tools still padlocked shut.
side passages that lead to shafts and wells.

We see old plastic bottles in our path
where other modern miners went before,
daring the deeper flood in diving suits.
We float them down the centre trickling stream.
Finding a sanctuary above the mud
where we can lie and hammer at our ease,
we search for black jack crystals set in quartz.

The mine´s alive with dripping water sounds.
We walk until we reach the stalactites…
Thousands of them, red, white and glittering black.
Most on the rocky ceiling, but in here
everything calcifies. New metal pipes,
concrete, old pit props, bottles in the mud,
soon gain a crusting where the water drips.

We reach the point inside where one path ends.
with huge machines beneath a quarry floor.
where rocks were loaded on to cars below.
Their metal plates are covered with aragonite
coloured fire red from two decades of rust.

Time passes quickly in our underworld.
We fill up knapsacks with our treasure trove.
Plod back with fading torches through the gloom,
emerging blinking at the the tunnel´s gates,
our legs turned jaundice yellow from the mud…

Fiona Pitt-Kethley is the author of more than 20 books of prose or poetry. She lives in Cartagena, Spain, with her family and an adopted colony of feral cats.