STATE OF EMERGENCY
On April 20, 2010, British Petroleum, TransOcean and Haliburton were jointly attempting to tap into a five mile deep oil well from a rig floating in the Gulf of Mexico. After a series of negligent actions that caused their fail safe devices to blow, they tapped into a high pressure reserve that sent oil, gas and other toxic compounds blasting up into their rig, literally blowing it to pieces, killing eleven people. The rig sank and the blood of the earth started gushing out of the sea bed at a rate of as much as two million gallons per day. For 87 days straight it gushed, and through it all, time and time again, BP lied about the scope of this disaster. They have also dumped over a million gallons of toxic chemicals into the water to keep the oil "dispersed". The oil and other poisons have washed ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama and Florida, killing the wildlife in its path. Due to the greed of these big corporations, America faced a catastrophe of biblical proportions.
For two months during the summer of 2010 poets addressed the Gulf of Mexico crisis. Below is the STATE OF EMERGENCY anthology of poetry that arose out of it.
STATE OF EMERGENCY: POETS ADDRESS THE GULF CRISIS
DAY 107: August 4, 2010
Who We Are
by Cynthia Pfeiffer
We are wrongheaded, hopelessly clumsy people.
proud of our opposable thumbs, our evolution,
our inventions, languages and beliefs.
We stumble around gracelessly,
bumping into each other and the scenery
even worse audience
cluttering the stage
we damage it in bits and pieces,
here and there, over time,
again and again and again.
there was a moment, when held high,
with hope and grace, we first enter this place,
ever after, we rise and fall, rise and fall,
always on the brink of
or burning in some fresh hell
hoping for the grace
to get us from one moment to the next.
The miracle is that we haven't yet
destroyed the whole place and each other.
Cynthia Pfeiffer lives and teaches in the suburbs of Chicago.
Her work has appeared online in The Melic Review, Cynic Online Magazine: Cafe Del Soul, Blue Rose Bouquet, Soul Reader, Miller's Pond, Clockwise Cat, Poetry Victims as well as published by CRAM (ChicagoPoetry.com Press).
DAY 106: August 3, 2010
by Angela Ford Johnson
I'm engulfed by the Gulf.
Like the oil and water
We don't mix.
It's clumped onto our hearts
Clogging our arteries and tears ducts
It's magnitude suffocates us.
Most days I tune it out
into greasy ambiguity
the dark film lingers
We don't mix.
they smother us
smarmy and harsh
It's breaking me.
The gush grips us
escape it's embrace
Newly bound black birds
can't fly in my face
There is light far away
Soapy black bloodshed
crude clobbering brawls
bring attention to all
We don't mix
but we CAN make the call
I look up
through the flames I recall
it's with ugly the pretty can scrawl
a chapter of change onto history's wall
Angela Ford Johnson is a Philadelphia and NYC writer and consultant affectionately known as Angie Writes.
DAY 104: August 1, 2010
SOON WILL BE
by Nena Weinsteiger
When the oil blackens the renewal that is the sea,
part of my wellbeing swirls in the muck and floats away from me.
I try to breathe, but I inhale the fumes burning off the miles of greyish-orange waves.
I go home and turn off the T.V.;
however, as I take a sip of my fresh water, I cannot swallow the thickness of irresponsibility.
I gag on the cover-ups,
And suffocate on the lack of response.
Like the animals are.
Like the ecosystem is.
Like we all soon will be.
Nena Weinsteiger says: "As a poet living in the central Florida area, I have seen the experienced the effects first hand. It sickens me to watch the lush and tropical landscape of Florida be affected by an accident that could have been prevented."
DAY 102: July 30, 2010
"Everything Seemed Fine” 4/20/2010 and after.
by Daniel Alexander Mosner
Floodgates dark shimmer ore swiftly that day
Pouring peril unrecognized, unlike tales from their book
Upon which they stand and they stoop and they pray
to keep feet talcum-dry.
And a thin soup sustains the odd strides of a rook:
Strides who self-destroyers are, when the soup has been
Fetched from black-water.
It tastes fine, it tastes fine
from deepest gland of Earth's unforeseen
clairvoyance of unwise retinues.
And even shadow lives within the light,
distant from casting its own rays upon the sky.
So the black sloth nectar runs veins through throats.
Drink of rainbow flowers and fruits to comfort-food cysts
In peristaltic flow of once washing waves
It tastes fine, it tastes fine.
Staring into the darkest hour looking for light;
through onyx cataracts, light looks blindly back.
DAY 99: July 27, 2010
Requiem for Grand Terre Isle
by Mars Caulton
I. On the beach of Grand Terre Isle
Each feather drenched in black
Oil from which I cannot rise
Mistaken for child’s beach mud creation
Until I opened my eyes
II. To my left a brother floating
Frantic feet like screams of dying riggers
Kick the air
To my right majestic pelicans
Oil-baptized into black angels of death to scare
All but those who’ve dared
To pierce veins of Mama Earth
And feed off prehistoric power so rare
III. Light flies faster than sounds
Of our cries
Except when Big Profit gives
Picture truths disguise
So now requiems arrive
Ahead of the names of all who died
Tonight shall die
Tomorrow still die
DAY 96: July 24, 2010
Breathing the Deepwater Horizon
by Laura Grace Weldon
I wake smothering.
of my grandparents’ carved bed
and your sleeping body calm me
though my breath is still caught
like those in the ocean’s clogged room.
Tipping my head, mouth open
like any organism seeking air
I think of plankton and krill
swirling on poisonous currents.
Of resolute creatures with maps in their heads
steering to gulf water, eyes keeping watch
long after their hearts stop.
When breath is scarce, the body concentrates
fiercely. I inhale and exhale
the deep waters of that horizon.
I hear them preach
do unto the whole world
as you would have
the whole world do unto you.
Bless you bless you bless you
I murmur, tipping forward to rock
as the crazy do and those
mad for God and those who lull tiny babies.
I breathe in oily darkness
hoping this time to exhale light.
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning (Hohm Press, 2010). Her poetry has recently been published in Christian Science Monitor, The Shine Journal, Atlanta Review, Halfway Down the Stairs, Mannequin Envy and Dirty Napkin.
DAY 91: July 19, 2010
by Scott McFarland
I mean the vagaries of a woman, of a child, of an artist.
The vagaries of the weather, of the stock market. Those
extravagant notions and whimsical purposes. Those
erratic, unpredictable fancies, those unexpected and
I mean those wanderings (from the Latin vagārī: to roam).
I mean the vagaries of thought—whether those of men,
or those of turtles.
I mean the vagaries of having a beaked head, paddle-like
arms, a dorsoventrally-flattened body, and a tear-shaped
The vagaries of being put inside a burlap bag lined with
excelsior--on your back, your arms tied together, the bag
cinched around your neck. Of refusing to eat. (This is no
hardship, as you can easily go six weeks without food,
and three weeks without any diminution of weight.)
Of swimming a thousand miles in the right direction,
and then being put on a boat and taken a thousand miles
in the wrong one.
The vagaries of having a body that can be turned into
liniment, or handbags, or steaks, or soup.
I mean the vagaries of memory. Of hatching, and then
racing to the ocean, chased by crabs and seagulls.
I mean the vagaries of swimming inside a plume of oil.
DAY 89: July 17, 2010
by Helen Ruggieri
easy to make a fortune
dig a hole
throw in nitro
if you’re lucky
water, mud, sand
and then gas
a golden thunderbolt
trees blossoming crude
dripping for days
oozing black scum
the ground orange
the stink of crude
burning your nose
the heat of burning waste
so intense grass grows
in winter fields
heat waves radiating
off oily ground
donkey pumps ratcheting
all through the valley
the sound – they say
of money being made
DAY 87: July 15, 2010
by Jason Crane
ironic, choosing a name
implying distant vision
when the one thing you
can’t do is see
white belly bobs
pointing at the sun
like the face of a flower
or a tree seeking nourishment
but the sun has set
on this day of days
the long night has begun
under a blanket of oil
the Cayuhoga burned
at least thirteen times
oozing not flowing, said Time
magazine with its barrels of ink
the word “gulf” comes from
kolpos, a Greek word meaning
bosom, the chest, the repository
of emotion and intimacy
now we surround the heart
of the world with the heavy ooze
of consumption, the debilitating murk
of driving by yourself with the radio on
nineteen million barrels
each and every day
seven hundred ninety-eight million gallons
each and every day
and that’s just one country
one nation living the dream
the chosen people of a god
who created the dinosaurs
solely to power our factories
propel our cars, fuel our
wildest fantasies, a pornography
of petroleum delights
you can’t get it off unless
you scrape it off with a tool
something no bird can manage
no fish can finagle
it’s like napalm without the fire
a deadly skin that can’t be shed
can’t be burned off
in Los Angeles, in New York,
in New Orleans, in Chicago,
in towns you’ve never visited
in towns I’ll never see
a man, a woman, a kid with
a new license
looks at his sneakers, her bike
the bus schedule
and grabs the keys instead
turns the engine over
hears the oil-fueled explosion
then turns up the radio
DAY 85: July 13, 2010
by Byron Beynon
The slick would engulf
the conscious coastline into disorder,
facing a wintry sea
the estuary braced
against nature's principles,
the prescriptive balance threatened
by a stench like genocide,
the malevolence of human actions,
on a treasure of sands;
the praised mythology of dolphins,
the guillemots, cormorants, grey seals aground,
their character despoiled
on a torn signature of shore,
a matted warrant,
the covering tide their pall.
Byron Beynon lives in Wales. His work has appeared in several publications including Agenda, Planet, Poetry Wales, Quadrant (Australia), Cyphers (Dublin), The French Literary Review and Eat a Peach Poetry Journal (USA). His latest collection "Nocturne in Blue" (Lapwing Publications) was launched at the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea in March 2010.
DAY 83: July 11, 2010
A Few Words
by Bethany Fitzpatrick
beautiful words like sheen, slick, and spirals
of rainbow, rainbow, rainbow,
cannot describe the fingers of death that reach into the gulf,
oil that discolors, coats, suffocates, kills,
cannot describe broken flights of pelicans
their slick drippings like nightmare shadows,
cannot describe sea turtles gliding along migratory paths
led along by earth’s magnetic center
confused and breathless in waters now viscous,
their mottled skin sheening with oil,
cannot describe the stifled sounds of dolphins
lungs thickened, dying slowly in spirals of rainbow
Bethany Fitzpatrick lives in Northwest Arkansas where she teaches English Composition. She has a M.A. from the University of Arkansas. Her poetry can also be found in Exposure and Babel Fruit: Writing Under the Influence.
Two Haiku from the "Endangered Species" series
by CJ Laity
Gulf Sturgeon swims
Finds its path leads to black death
Corrects it, must breathe
Sea turtle accepts
Gentle grasp of human hands
Crude and life don't mix
DAY 80: July 8, 2010
by Janie Oakes, Santa Fe, NM
Heavy equipment whines. While experts
fiddle, the rest of us must not be idle
Generations deep, shoulder to shoulder
we will line the Gulf Coast shore
Each of us taking a turn, leaning into
slicked water, hair soaking up spilled oil
Millions will do this
Afterward, every head will be shaved
The short haired and already shorn will
weave crude coated locks into a braid
Twist the braid into a thousand-stranded rope
rope into a mighty knot, hope's monument
DAY 77: July 5, 2010
FROM THE MUSEUM OF NATURAL HISTORY
(Previously published in Laughing Unicorn)
by Barbara Crooker
We're not chameleons, that's for sure;
we don't adapt--how ridiculous, absurd.
Our surroundings must fit us;
we live in the comfort zone:
our cars, a breath of cool air;
our bilevels, warm as toasterovens.
We need our bigmacs
paper products, more varied than trees,
tinfoil, more shining than mountains.
Until one day
on a sixlane
we all run out
The planet cools down,
and we've sucked our last
sweet drop of crude.
We don't hear the long, slow
singing of our blood,
but stare, bewildered
at the neonless night:
the stars and their awful glare,
the air, thin and cruel
on our furless skin,
the moon, obscenely white
until we lose all ways,
sink into the tar,
and dream the last dream.
Until our relics
beside a winnebago
in a diorama
on seventy-ninth street.
Barbara Crooker’s books are Radiance, which won the 2005 Word Press First Book competition and was a finalist for the 2006 Paterson Poetry Prize; Line Dance (Word Press 2008) and More (C & R Press, 2010). Her poems appear in Good Poems for Hard Times (Viking Penguin, Garrison Keillor, editor) and the Bedford Introduction to Literature.
DAY 74: July 2, 2010
by Michael H. Brownstein
The tumor around the tree wore a Hiroshima shroud
blood oil and tarred, the color of one Biblical plague
and ten paces further, another with two tumors like broken hands.
Nearby, the stench of fresh wild ginger starving for breath.
A brook, storm wearied and discouraged, rock and chemical,
a scar fumbling its way to someplace greater, an insult.
When the clouds slipped before the sun,
a disease of what was once green, broken shade,
one barren hill of dead and dying sliding, sliding, sliding.
The broken brook, the growth on tree trunks,
and then, thunder skulls, and then, sky breaks,
and then, gentian violet, a tear in the sewage line.
DAY 72: June 30, 2010
POSTCARDS FROM THE GULF
by Georgia Wallace
It is April and we walk St. Pete’s cove
where anchored sailboats and docked yachts
rock in the morning breeze. A small stingray
skims beneath the surface
beside the harbor wall. Its black eyes
and spiny tail accent the wing-shaped body
as it flies along, open mouth, scooping in
the tiny, shiny krill. When it stops,
for a second or two, we stop too,
caught in its flight until it soars away
into warmer waters searching for a mate.
BP oil rig explodes in Gulf of Mexico, spilling 5,000 barrels.
Wind skips small whitecaps across the Bay’s
blue canvas. A loud hissing burp,
comes from behind us as we walk.
We turn to look, see nothing on land or sea.
A little farther on we again hear the sound
and pause to look out into the curling water.
We stand still and silent until a charcoal dorsal fin
breaks the surface, followed by another hissing burp.
Grey-blue skin sparking, the porpoise blows and dives,
circling along the bay wall.
7,000 barrels of oil per day pour into Gulf.
The pure white sands of Madeira Beach bounce
the May sun back to us where we take
a morning walk. A bevy of sandpipers skitter
down the water’s edge. A male sandwich tern,
topknot ruffled, struts his stuff
for a hogey of apathetic females. Sand crabs
peer out of gritty homes as gulls circle.
Pelicans dive and surf the outgoing tide. A white ibis
paces the yard at midday, following its bright red beak.
A trawler unloads its last catch at sunset.
At the Friendly Fisherman, we unleash our hunger.
210,000 gallons of oil per day pour into Gulf.
Wakened by sounds of construction – skill saw, concrete mixer,
chink of hammer to stone – the neighborhood begins to calm.
Late morning traffic idles by and the outgoing tide’s briny odor
drifts around us. A trio of boat-tailed grackles punctuates
the morning news with courteous conversation –
statement, reply, statement, reply. A pair of jays scree an alarm.
darting in and out of the neighbors acacia tree.
Feathers settle. The intruder soars into the tropical sky.
Above the house a jay sends an isolated call.
Georgia Wallace says: "I recently returned to Kentucky from an extended stay with my Florida family in the Tampa Bay/St. Peter area and, as usual, was overwhelmed with the beauty of its natural resources and abundance of wildlife. I now fear that I may have been privileged to have this experience for the last time. It may well be the last time my 11-year-old grandson will witness the Gulf's unequaled beauty."
DAY 70: June 28, 2010
Wherever You Are
by Max Enos
It seems to me, that
The real question at hand
Should be more along the lines of:
Who is spilling all their water in our oil?
Don't look at me like that
First of all
Please allow me to apologize
For my initial apology
I meant what I said.
And whatever happens
From here on out
In our beloved Gulf of Texaco
*MEXICO, *MEXICO --
Yet another apology is in store
While the lost and found oil
Pioneers a further shore
DAY 69: June 27, 2010
by Kirsten Hemmy
1. a celebration
2. a special year of remission of sins and universal pardon
3. when fish are trapped between the shore and an advancing water mass low in
dissolved oxygen; fish make their way to the water at the surface, very close to shore.
In the old days of jubilee, men say,
“You can fill a washtub with shrimp.
You can gig a hundred flounders &
fill the back of your pickup truck
two foot deep in crabs.” Crabs climb
tree stumps, slither up the banks,
oxygen-deprived by some freak
of nature, accumulation of organic
material on the bay floor, suffocating.
Today, it’s an oil jubilee – everyday,
more rising to the surface, freakish
gift, everything we could have asked for
& more. It doesn’t stop – this one
doesn’t sneak in during blackest
hours of midnight; rather, we sit
inside & watch it on live stream,
richest silk, dancing everywhere.
Kirsten Hemmy has published interviews with poets such as Yusef Komunyakaa and Ralph Angel, was a recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize and the 2008 recipient of the Linda Flowers Literary Award. Her collection of poems, The Atrocity of Water, is forthcoming from Press 53 in September 2010.
DAY 67: June 25, 2010
Gulf Sapphic I: The Gull
by Heather Derr-Smith
In the garden of marsh, the spartina grass
and orchids, the tide's mysteries congregate
and withdraw. The small periwinkle snails haul
their symmetry down
into the water's salty dark, and they glow
in the blue dusk of evening, its glittering
spider threads and lanterns of fireflies, pulsing.
The beam of heaven
balances on the crooked back of the live oak.
A gull in the tree's balcony grooms its wings,
descends to the smooth surface of the water.
The sea's awful smell
drifts in, the bird unaware of me, aware.
In the waves call and response--time heals, time
does no such thing.
The clouds come in low, haunting in the slash pines.
The oyster shells press
their ears against the breast of the earth: Listen--
the gull disappears, its white bones turn to air--
as night emerges, its petroleum scents.
It will not return.
Gulf Sapphic II: Stain
by Heather Derr-Smith
The first creatures were the sea monsters and the birds,
Genesis says, the beginning of miracle.
In just that tail flash, that rustle of tree top,
when you see them dart--
the silver fin under the hull, the waters part.
How we forget the face of our newborn, years past.
Blue strike behind the trees black limbs, God darkened,
out of view again.
How do we recover so much that is lost?
We take so much for granted, summers forgetting,
the first thingsveiled under the haze of evening.
I went down to the sea, the oil in the sand
just beginning to stain.
Heather Derr-Smith is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop and is the author of two books of poetry, "Each End of the World" (Main Street Rag Press, 2005) and "The Bride Minaret" (University of Akron Press, 2008). She is the Visiting Poet at Iowa State University in the Creative Writing and the Environment MFA Program. In 2009 she received an NEA grant to lead poetry Workshops in Bosnia. Her poems have appeared in Crazyhorse, Fence, Margie, and Valpairaiso Review.
DAY 65: June 23, 2010
by Carol L. Gloor
Oil blackens the Gulf like the Nazis invading Europe.
Always on TV, a tiny soiled invertebrate twists
in three inches of water, strangling grass,
its tiny Auschwitz, rolling back and forth,
back and forth, into death.
It made no choice, cannot move away.
I care more for this dying mollusk
than the shrimp, oysters, fish, dolphins,
boats, beaches, tourists, people, money.
I live along the upper Mississippi, supposedly safe,
until I see the snowy egret perfectly reflected in green backwater,
or the wading blue heron, lifting its feet,
and know they will not be back
without a place to rest this winter.
Shame blackens me, infects with toxicity:
I will fill my car’s tank with gas, tomorrow.
An Unfortunate Truth
by Erik Fuhrer
Perhaps the beginning of a new marketing campaign from BP:
“black is the new blue, transforming the ocean for you”
a pelican with an ebony sheen
a boy lifting a cup of oil to his lips
So much lost to remind us
that indulgence is the mother of negligence
and yet we’ll continue to pillage the Earth
until “drill baby drill” becomes
nothing but a whisper
from throats coated with muck
a silent wilting rose
DAY 63: June 21, 2010
Caterina Davinio (IT)
Da: Alieni in safari, 2010.
by Caterina Davinio
Il pianeta è azzurro,
Mi parve fragile
Nel buio assoluto;
A distanze stellari
Galassie come fantasmi,
Il pianeta che da vicino era disordine.
Non sapevamo le traiettorie,
I corsi matematici
Il geometrico segno della sua orbita:
Gli alterchi quotidiani ci dilaniavano,
La rabbia d’amore,
La pittura sulla staccionata,
I fiori nelle aiuole.
Nella sua azzurrità d’oceani,
Nello striato biancore
Dei suoi nastri
Di vapore acqueo,
Nei suoi venti come una soffice aureola
Il pianeta era umile cosa,
Una supplica nel cosmo
Che implorava frangibile sopravvivenza,
Alle eterne leggi
Quel parassita vincente,
Quel batterio tenace
Che macchia di sacche nere ammalate
Di fori e crepe la pelle della Terra
Attaccabile e lieve nella sua azzurrità,
Umida d’acque, piogge e soffici
Pronte allo scarto, all’errore
Al rimedio, alla correzione
All’aggiustamento fluido della materia;
Il pianeta tenero alla tenebra
Riluceva del mio rimpianto
E amore di astronauta
Destinato al viaggio,
Alla lunga partenza
Al nero stellare
Caterina Davinio (IT)
From: Aliens in Safari, 2010.
by Caterina Davinio
The planet is azure,
It seemed fragile to me
In the absolute dark;
At stellar distances
Galaxies like ghosts,
The planet that closely was disorder.
We didn’t know the trajectories,
The mathematical paths,
Precise in the idea,
The geometrical sign of its orbit:
The daily altercations tearing us,
Rage of love,
Painting on the fence,
In its blueness of oceans,
In the striated whiteness
Of its ribbons
Of water vapor,
In its winds like a soft halo,
The planet was a humble thing,
A plea in the cosmos
Which implored for a frangible survival,
For sensible devotion,
The eternal laws
And the human being,
That triumphant parasite,
That tenacious bacterium
That marks with ill black pockets
With holes and cracks, the skin of the Earth,
Challengeable and light with its blueness,
Humid with waters, rains and spongy
Ready to swerve, to the mistake
To the remedy, to the correction
To that fluid adjustment of matter;
The tender planet shone
In the darkness with my regret
And love of astronaut
Destined to the journey,
To the long departure
To the stellar black
To the unknown.
DAY 61: June 19, 2010
But for Burning Blue out of the Sky
by Paul Freidinger
Oil erupts from the ocean’s floor,
black as night, sticky as blood;
thus, the poem begins
as if smoke rising but for burning
blue out of the sky. This horror
submerged yet systemic—
the self’s simple circle unsealing
the formula; thus, the poem
begins in its marsh grass fouled,
unlearning the rudiments of language,
not the heart’s pulse but for burning
the body’s blistered indiscretion,
watching the heron’s wings blackened
with shiny oil that shook his sure-fire
freedom against him; wingless wings;
thus, the poem sings without aesthetic
consequence. Fire lit
on the water’s seething surface,
plumes of smoke rising as at the bottom
its form in death, plumes folding
the poem into syllables untranslatable.
Of you, trapped bird in trouble, last
the elegy insufficient. Thus, the poem
ends with no ending, your black eyes
uncomprehending the futile falling
back and under, not the cause
but asunder consequence, last image
of flight unbending into the sea of night,
black wonder breathing black—
thus, the poem ends...
Paul Freidinger lives in Edisto Island, SC. Paul says: "It's a beautiful place, a fragile ecology, and borders the ACE Basin, the largest marine sanctuary on the East Coast. It is very similar to the Louisana coast. As you can imagine, people here are freaking out about the potential damage from the oil catastrophe and, I believe, have a genuine empathy for what those folks are going through. Our island has two major rivers and thirteen creeks (many a half mile wide), and the high tide comes in twice daily, filling the entire island with salt water, and then, emptying it out at low tide. We have twenty-four species of endangered birds, loggerhead turtles, not to mention other species of endangered animals of plants. It wouldn't take much oil to destroy this island. Considering all of that fills one with something akin to dread."
DAY 60: June 18, 2010
by Anne Whitehouse
I placed it like a reminder
in the corner of my computer screen;
all day I kept coming back to it:
the web cam a mile underwater
recording clouds and plumes of filth
expelled like an explosive diarrhea
from the bowels of the earth,
polluting the soft, blue-green waters
and pure white sands
of the warm, salt sea,
its rich, teeming, varied life—
dolphins playing at dawn,
stealthy, sinuous sharks,
fish the colors of the rainbow,
vibrant corals and seaweeds,
mollusks and crustaceans,
the most magnificent birds
and intricate shells—
fouled and mired in the earth’s shit.
The very substance of our greed
come back to contaminate the world,
until the last fires of internal combustion
by Laura Hershey
Ten days each spring, we woke
to the smell of salt water, seaweed,
eggs my Dad fried in butter,
and fresh orange pulped by Nana.
Before ten a.m. we wore the scent
of sun tan lotion, and tumbled out the door
where the Gulf welcomed us with waves
tendering gifts: conch shells, sand dollars,
tiny clams which opened into pink hearts
or angels' wings spread for flight.
On folding chairs and big beach towels
we ate peanuts, cheese sandwiches, more oranges.
We did homework -- price of missing
three days' school -- halfheartedly,
equations and penciled solutions blurring
amid glare on white pages.
All day, from low to high tide, and back, we slid between
land and sea, let the surf pound and pull at us,
let the sun dizzy us, built castles
of shovel-packed sand walls and drizzled spires
with moats Dad dug deep enough
for my dangling legs.
Can I now, forty years later, grieve
that same seawater? How many times since then
has it evaporated, and fallen? How many hundreds
of generations of mollusks and minnows
have lived and died between that beach
and the sandbar we rafted to at low tide?
In no sense are they mine to mourn --
but neither can I claim innocence.
The flights I board, my craving for cool air,
all my habits of comfort and consumption
learned on family vacations, loved
for a lifetime, joined to billions of others' hungers,
led to drilling in that Gulf, a hole in its heart,
to take what lay within.
Now, I watch remote live feeds
of unstoppable hemorrhage, technology
helpless to reverse its own mistakes,
dark plumes choking Gulf currents,
and I grieve for fishing families, for endangered pelicans
and bluefin, for eleven dead workingmen.
But my soul aches for what I have not seen
for many years, and what might be lost:
long days on the beach, solving simple problems,
dreading only the end of spring break, until next year.
Laura Hershey is a Colorado-based poet who has been published in Gertrude, Shakespeare's Monkey Review, Trillium Literary Journal, and in the anthology Fire in the Soul: 100 Poems for Human Rights. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles.
DAY 59: June 17, 2010
by Millicent Borges Accardi
May we not apologize for the earth’s bleeding
Nor try to stupidly explain about cars and roads
And the endless highway of Americans needing
To drive. May we learn to get from place to place
More gracefully like the dolphins or the starfish.
May love carry the oil spill on its back and inside
Its sorrow. This day, I send to you, an address,
A blessing, dear fish and dolphins and sea creatures
Who understand the ways of man all too well.
A blessing more than we will ever--
And yet probably you know, I am sorry.
I love you. Please forgive us. These words, may they
Form clear oceans and blue silky water and safe
Havens to feed and nest and grow. By envisioning this,
May there be a change in the molecules, a shift
In the palace. I am hoping to affect a miracle.
May you forgive us in this dear
Life of a planet. Please. We’re sorry. We love you.
Millicent Borges Accardi has been a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Barbara Deming Foundation, and the California Arts Council, as well as residencies at Yaddo, Jentel, Vermont Studio, and Fundación Valparaíso in Mojacar, Spain, and has recently been published in The Wallace Stevens Journal, Tampa Review, and New Letters.
For a Chemical Waste-Removal Worker
by Penny Harter
You're a young man. Perhaps not long ago
you played astronaut for Halloween,
ran door to door trading tiny paper flags
for candy, grinning inside your white, plastic
helmet with the plexiglass visor.
That flat suburban street was not the moonscape
you sought, the barren waste sterile and white
under an alien sky---the small blue earth
Today you found it.
Did you know as you opened the first
drum of the pile stacked by the river
what you let loose?
Did you still smell the smoke
of last week's fire inside the bubble
that encased your face?
How soon did the dizziness start?
The vomit ran down your chin
before they got your helmet off.
You continued to bloody
your impermeable suit.
They took you away by private ambulance.
The barrel, they left there
for another time.
Penny Harter's is the author of several books, including her newest book, Recycling Starlight, which will be released in Autumn, 2010. Harter has received three poetry fellowships from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, the Mary Carolyn Davies Award from the Poetry Society of America, and the William O. Douglas Nature Writing Award for poems in American Nature Writing. She lives in the southern New Jersey shore area and works as a poet in the schools.
Oil Gone Wild
By Paul Ulrich
We’ve a gusher, all right,
bellowing in rage at man’s hubris, our conceit,
that we can do whatever we want to get what we need.
It’s spewing toxic, black sludge, thousands of barrels a day -
a dragon’s belch of the earth’s undigested contents into our water.
Who knows how much, who knows how long
the choleric vomit will go on?
As we grope for a way to solve a problem we cannot even see,
one of our own making, it is the innocent of course who foot the tab -
the slime coating feathers that no longer fly, filling lungs that
no longer breathe, killing an environment that no longer sustains
livelihoods, now gone.
DAY 58: June 16, 2010
by K.R. Copeland
The gulf is gasping,
its black mouth packed
with poisonous oysters.
It drags itself along
a morbid seafloor -- collapses
in a mass of gills and gull wings.
The Giants, with their fuel,
move cruelly shoreward.
K.R. Copeland is a widely published Chicagoland poet/digital artist as well as co-editor of The Centrifugal Eye and Sea Stories, the online literary journal of The Blue Ocean Institute, a leader in Marine Conservation.
What Might Be Horizon
by Judith Arcana
When I walk onto the beach
I won't look out at the water
until my feet touch wet sand.
Then I stand on the swash
eyes open, scanning the tide
letting the waves come at me.
The clear light of their hearts
falls into glistening fans
and the long sky deepens.
Boats disappear at what might be
horizon, down over the curving
edge of the earth, past what I know
while gulls scream over my head
when I shade my eyes, searching
for what I can’t see as the waves
come at me, opening the beach
right under my feet, capturing me
in the swirling tide-quickened sand.
.NIGHT AND OIL
by Robert Klein Engler
The other day, a deer nonchalantly strolled
across River Road with all its snarled traffic.
When I saw this rupture of nature into
our urban world, I followed the deer to
where she stopped to eat a few leaves
from shoots of an ash tree, looks me right
in the eyes, then jump a low fence and go
back to the safety of the Forest Preserves.
That memory lingers like the perfume of
rose petals in a closed room or a disjointed
dream, while oil gushes up from the floor
of the Gulf, so far away the video seems
like a hose stretched to the moon. Immune
to that, this deer took into her dark eyes
a metal landscape, eyes deep as a well into
which we drop a coin, to see it drawn to black.
We want the oil spill to stop because that
black river is so much like what is deep in us,
that which we cannot plug, the damn hole
of desire. So, too, is it the darkness behind
the eyes of animals, and the black fire behind
the eyes of Joran Van der Sloot, who breaks
the neck of his lover. It is the black river
of oil on which we row our boat of bones.
I've seen a turtle as big as a shopping bag
come out from the woods by Weller Creek,
a raccoon, too, and ducks that ripple the water.
They live with a constant hum from US 294
as I live with the hum of a nightly dream.
Where did I park my car? I can leave the black
suitcase behind, but I need to build a bridge
across the inky stream, here into the trees.
DAY 57: June 15, 2010
Meditations on Oil and Water
(Previously published in Journal of Ordinary Thought)
by Donna Pecore
they flop on the beach
black yuck sand sticks
black yuck everywhere
a dog enters the dark ocean
he retreats shaking globs
of black yuck everywhere
the birds and fish choke
they flop on the beach
there are not enough not
enough volunteers to save
they flop on the beach
I have one of those bottles; those salad dressing bottles
where you mix vinegar and oil and water and spices and
you watch how the oil separates and coats the herbs and
spices and they become one as you shake the bottle with the plastic lid.
We are like oil and water
We don’t get along
Things heat up
You thin out
Spreading out all over
I evaporate into thin air
We are all over
there is not enough
when are we going to hear what the scientist’s are saying?
there is not enough
we are pumping the life blood of our planet
she is going to be hollow
the ground is going to collapse under our feet
are we not going to be satisfied until there is no more
our gluttonous appetites never appeased
our future never considered
she comes from a dry land
she walks miles to bring home water
students from America dig wells and save lives
she comes here from Iraq and sees the storm a sign of good luck
here she watches sheltered people converse
small talk, simple stuff in a place where the toilet flushes, the grass is green
Donna Pecore is a Chicago poet who has published several chapbooks of poetry and who has featured at various venues over the years. She was the recipient of ChicagoPoetry.com's Editors Choice Award for her poem HumBug.
by Jeff Harrison
what is face-down will
no longer get oil from me
bursting in on that comma
see — spidery sea
dear for warmth
& a puzzle not lacking
what's usually winked away
you'll remember my pulse
by its corners
by what's kept in the blink
fly, frog — Poor Time in
a part for all
largest stillest shadow
at last talking, officer
I twist apart small bodies
by the hour for a clue
flowers, I opined,
walk the storm down
their thorns are tonic
for the multitudes
what is face-down will
no longer get oil from me
Jeff Harrison has publications from Writers Forum, MAG Press, Persistencia Press, and Furniture Press. His poetry has appeared in An Introduction to the Prose Poem (Firewheel Editions), The Hay(na)ku Anthology Vol. II (Meritage Press), Sentence: a Journal of Prose Poetics, Otoliths, Xerography, Moria, NOON: journal of the short poem, Dusie, MiPOesias, Big Bridge, and elsewhere.
by Rajiv Mohabir
I’m as devastated as you are by what I’ve seen here today. –Tony Hayward CEO of BP
today he stuffs mud into the well.
the casualties dawn glistening bodies,
star speckled shine.
worst in u.s. history, their crude deaths.
gathered to prevent more leakage,
siphoned off only half a million
gallons so far—
he gathers fowl bodies, pelican dive fishers,
skimmers and terns, white, blue rusty black herons,
plovers for the pipes;
gathers bottlenose, common cetacean and
half-shell corpses. tainted killifish,
gathers fouled bodies,
stuffs them into heavy mud
stuffs the brown pelicans, grebes, slick eggs,
to plug, to top kill—
so much blood in this oil.
Rajiv Mohabir teaches English as a Second Language in Queens, New
York, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Queens
College, and is an editor in poetry and literary translation for Ozone
Park Journal. He is a VONA (Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation)
alumnus. Rajiv's poems have appeared in Trikone, EOAGH, Ghoti, and Saw
Palm magazines, forthcoming publications in SOFT BLOW and Bricks on a
Yellow Brick Road. Pudding House Press named him a "Poet of Note" in
their 2009 chapbook competition and published his chapbook na bad-eye
me in 2010.
DAY 56: June 14, 2010
Why We Need An Earth Day
by Jennifer Dotson
I grew up anxious about smog
and litter and a possible world
without whales. I fretted about
Nuclear holocaust and the
Neutron bomb, perplexed by an
invention designed to annihilate
the human race but preserve
the buildings for cockroaches.
My daughter fears global warming
and the destruction of rain forests.
She can’t sleep thinking of Earth’s wrath
unleashed in tsunamis and tornadoes,
earthquakes and super-volcanoes.
While each generation’s angst
differs in flavor, the connective
theme is clear.
Ingenuity and greed are
Engineering our destruction.
Let us transform our fear into
action. No matter how small and
insignificant it may seem now,
our choices today will make
a different tomorrow.
Jennifer Dotson's poems have been published in Her Mark 2005, an arts and poetry calendar created by Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, and East on Central, Highland Park's Journal of Arts & Letters. In 2007, Jennifer launched Highland Park Poetry to create a local celebration of National Poetry Month. This has since evolved into a year-round endeavor with poetry events, poetry challenge, website and a 30-minute local-access cable program, "Poetry Today."
DAY 55: June 13, 2010
DEAD ZONE, GULF OF MEXICO
by Mary Krane Derr
"The spilll is like a serial killer."-- PJ Hahn, director of coastal management, Plaquemines Parish, to cbsnews.com.
Too pumped up on
petrochemical fertilizer foods
to strut and cluck their own
happily meandering lines,
too crammed and pinioned
into metal racks anyway,
chickens of industry
shit out their mountains
of reeking ammoniac fear
that wash out down the Delta
and bloom frantic plumes into the Gulf
of all-it-can-eat algae
till even the algae
burns itself extinct—
there’s nothing that coughing up blood oil
to mass-smother birds can’t achieve.
Preventable bad wires,
how little time left
without a lost-time accident
for these humans on clampdown
restively downing brought-in
fried chicken to the bones
stories above the already roiled sea.
When the rig blows like prophecy
the workers have no way to step or fly out,
except 11 who go missing
into unseen molecules
into black globs of oil
that venture out looking like
geological spots of blood from above,
that wash back up and stopper
the living throats and wings of wetlands
by the mouth of the Mississippi--
there’s nothing that coughing up blood oil
to mass-smother birds can’t achieve.
Mary Krane Derr is a poet, writer, eco activist, and organic community gardener from Chicago's South Side. She has published in journals like Many Mountains Moving, Lilliput Review, and Seeding the Snow and anthologies like Hunger Enough: Living Spiritually in a Consumer Society, ed. Nita Penfold (Pudding House). She contributed articles to the African American National Biography (Oxford University Press); and a forthcoming Polish American Historical Association encyclopedia.
The poems contained in this anthology were selected by CJ Laity from hundreds of submissions.
Note: For two months during the summer of 2010, poets responded to the American oil pollution crisis: click here to read the anthology.