Deepwater Horizon, Summer 2010
Few of us have seen the stuff itself,
the remains of epochs, eras,
of algae and protozoans
long buried beneath layers of rock.
Few have seen or touched it,
but the toddler absorbs a trace
when she mouths the plastic toy,
as do all of us who eat from fields
fertilized and sanitized
with its efficient derivatives.
We get whiffs of it from traffic,
from the weed-whacker and mower,
and sometimes a raw breath comes
as we board a plane, then again
disembarking in a distant city,
a trail of white streaks lingering
above, dissolving slowly
in the hazy skies of a warming day.
We know it by such hints and spoor,
but so carefully have we trained it
to do its work for us and keep
discreetly out of sight and mind
that we don’t know crude oil—
this brown or greenish or coal-black goo
that clogs with crippling weight
the pelican’s wings, floods beach
and marshland in a dark tide
that will not ebb.
Those good souls
who net the birds and clean them,
who blot the shorelines as they can
with paper pads, they know its feel,
its balled or caked or oozing heft,
and they know in nose and throat
its sulfurous stink. But they, at least,
can shed their gloves and boots
and sleep clean tonight—or would
sleep clean, if any of us could.
The image missing from this poem
is the man you’ve seen in movies—
the wildcatter, drilling for his dream,
strikes it big and dances now
in the black rain of his spewing well,
smeared, soaked, besotted with oil,
screaming his jubilation, his face
so writhed he seems almost in agony.
He is. He has it all, this oiled man.
He is rich, he is crazy rich,
and he means to share his dream.
He sees great things for all of us.
His gusher has come in and it is ours.
First appeared in a different form in The Oregonian, June, 2010.