“Deep Horizon — the chosen”, a poem about the BP Gulf disaster and why I wrote it

First the poem followed by comments:

Looking out across the gulf
I see a murky horizon
blurred by the brine of a tear
that is taking its time
gaining enough weight
to trail down my cheek.
The deep horizon of this grief
is far deeper than I thought.

Was I foolish to come?

Didn’t I know that any space so hollowed
and left empty,
even for an instant,
fills with the tears of those
who wept before we were born
for what they knew was coming?

Such a weight, such a gulf,
such a deep horizon.

Even the crabs, the flattest of nations,
cannot squeeze beneath
this mile-deep grief.
A tarry pelican
pushed up by the crippled tide
lies crumpled like a broken shadow puppet.
Fish roast in the sun
like blackened shavings
of silver and copper;
in solidarity,
I mimic their down-turned mouths.

. . . Sickened by the smell of the air we have made . . .

I come here to wade knee deep
into this ruined place.
I can’t wash this off,
what we have done.
I can’t even properly ask
a dead pelican for forgiveness:

But if our madness is our refusal to learn
from your sacrifice
then our madness is all I see in tomorrow.

What if we can’t make it better
unless we go away?

. . . As you return to what you were
before we called you “pelican”,
let us then return to what we were
before we named you!

What was that?
What were we anyway,
before we named ourselves “chosen”?


Some comments on this poem:

Now that the movie “Deepwater Horizon” has been in theaters for a couple weeks and the BP disaster is back in the nation’s thoughts, I decided to revisit the poem I wrote while the crisis was unfolding back in 2010. For 87 days oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico, 210,000,000 gallons in all. (For purposes of comparison, estimates of the (1989) Valdez spill range from 11 – 32 million gallons.) I remember those days, painfully. The long wait for something to be done. The feelings of anger and dismay and even hopelessness. I think I wrote this poem when I started feeling like my feelings didn’t matter . . . That, once again, the bottom line was, it was all about jobs, money, technology (failed technology and technology to the rescue) and PR and damage control . . . Does everyone like the new BP logo  — so upbeat, so (environmentally) optimistic. (The old one, in case you’ve forgotten, is a shield bearing the letters BP.) Artists have had a lot of fun with alternative logos to make sure that BP doesn’t forget their shadow. But this poem is deeper than any of this. It reminds me of a poem I wrote after the Bhopal (Union Carbide) disaster in India in 1984. It came from the same place, from that bruised place in the collective soul.



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