by Amy Wolstenholme
In Portland we don’t use the word, we dance around it – furry things, we’d say, the furry things are in backfield again. As a child I only knew I should never look directly at them, the same way I knew not to look at the sun. It was wrong. It would hurt later on. My grandfather called them underground mutton – the first time I heard the phrase I laughed, and he didn’t. I guess that means it’s okay to eat them. That it’s okay to roast and spit them but never see them. As an adult I learnt the fear behind the superstition – my home is always on the brink of slipping, because long ago we built mines where we shouldn’t. And, like always, nature far outshone the humans: the furry things would run before the rockfalls, the men would disappear beneath them. So when they skipped in fields en masse, bobtails flashing, we would know that somewhere below ground people were trapped, were crushed, were suffocating. We would know that when the underground mutton set to dancing, the Earth was eating the miners.