A COMBUSTIBLE EMPIRE
Young thing, should you find this year
a lump at your stocking’s foot, not soft
nor waxy, ripe nor sweet, then reach
to investigate, and find your finger’s black
with soot, don’t think of it as punishment.
I know it’s not the Hornby train you wrote
down on your list, but coal is the cradle
for the flame that turns the driving wheel.
Within each chunk is captured sun
held between the layered cloak of life
that cultivated Earth, millions of years ago.
It sounds like science fiction,
but imagine men, your grandfather,
tunnelling towards the core, to mine
this light of yesteryear, to fuel our ships
so engineers could name virgin settlements,
and bring north southern climates to light
the wild dark, to spread the King’s English
and found with coal, a sovereignty on which
the sun would never set, fuse East with West.
We’ve come this far and thank the coal,
but now the moon is sinking and other
chimneys wait, and you, young thing, should
be asleep, the coals have burned to snow.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Challis was born in London in 1984 and is currently working on a first collection of poetry. In 2010 he was awarded AHRC funding to study for an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University where he was awarded a distinction. He is now in the final stages of a PhD in Creative Writing at Newcastle University on contemporary poetry and Film Noir, and also works as a teaching associate. In 2012 he was awarded a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North to help develop his first collection. His work has appeared in magazines and anthologies including Clinic II, Double Bill (Red Squirrel Press, 2014), Iota, Lung Jazz (Cinnamon Press, 2012), Magma, The Rialto, The Lifeboat Issue Ten, and most recently on BBC Radio 4’s ‘The Echo Chamber’. John also runs the Newcastle based poetry and theatre events company, Trashed Organ, and his debut play, ‘The Next Train to Depart’ premiered at Queen’s Hall Arts Centre, Hexham, in January 2014.