Commentary followed by the poem:
I want to post a poem that I “wrote” that is based on a prose reflection by Lee Burkett, “Walking my dog while the battle rages”. I put “wrote” in quotes because the words in this poem aren’t original to me. The way I wrote it was to rearrange some of Lee’s phrasing and juxtapose certain of his thoughts in a way that I find poetic. I want to repeat, all of the words are Lee’s. He lives in the heart of “Gasland”, in Pennsylvania where the landscape has been devastated by fracking. (Expanding on Wikipedia: “Gasland”, geographically speaking, refers to certain places in the USA where fracking is going on full-tilt. (The film Gasland (shot in Pennsylvanis, Colorado, Texas, Wyoming, and the District of Columbia) is a 2010 American documentary (available on Netflix) written and directed by Josh Fox. Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011, the film focuses on communities in the United States affected by natural gas drilling and, specifically, a method of horizontal drilling into shale formations known as hydraulic fracturing. The film was a key mobilizer for the anti-fracking movement.)
Vermont and New York are the only states that have banned fracking. So, as a Vermonter, I don’t know what it feels like to walk around where I live or take a drive in the countryside near my home and (like Lee) experience the Hellish devastation of, an otherwise familiar, fracked landscape. Lee writes very poignantly of how it feels. I can only imagine it! Lee has helped me imagine, but as for writing a poem about what it feels like to live in Gasland, I wouldn’t presume to be able to do that. But, as a poet, I am driven by a powerful instinct to write about things that I care about and things that matter to me. By transforming Lee’s reflection into a poem I was able to step into his shoes, into his experience.
Before I get to the poem, I want to say that I just read that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that they are withdrawing their permission for routing the Dakota Access pipeline under the reservoir and tributary of the Missouri River, that the Souix and other tribes (and an exponentially growing community of their supporters) have been defending at Standing Rock.
What a relief! What a cause for celebration! But what now? My question is: When is something one’s battle? When do you say, like those brave Native people at Standing Rock– This is my battle and make a stand?
To make it our battle
The water from my tap smells like mildew
on oily rags.
When I drink it there is a moment when
I have to tell myself to swallow
or I will spit it out.
I boil water for my coffee
to get rid of the taste.
Every morning I take Duff for a long walk.
It’s cloudy and rainy today,
but through the clouds and rain
I can feel the Earth warming as the sun comes up.
I can smell the odor of the water treatment facility
a few blocks from where I live.
An aggressive smell, somewhat sweet,
like artificial fruit.
We don’t own our water.
It was bought
and now it’s sold back to us.
I know neighbors who don’t talk to each other anymore.
Some people got a couple thousand dollars,
some hundreds of thousands.
They put in a pipeline about two years ago.
It runs right under Stillwater Dam.
It crosses route 171 and then winds up a steep hill.
The trees, all clear cut and hauled away.
There was lots of talk about jobs,
until the pipeline moved far enough away
that they started replacing our locals
with other locals.
During my walk this morning with Duff
I think about what’s going on at Standing Ridge Sioux Reservation.
Harassed, intimidated, maced, gassed,
shot at with rubber bullets, dragged away from prayer ceremonies,
their teepees and tents pulled down. . .
All because they are trying to protect the water.
How rarely our government prosecutes crimes committed by the wealthy.
Standing Rock? I talk to my neighbors. They say:
That’s a long way off.
They’re just trying to make it through another week
on less than minimum-wage jobs.
We walk past a big puddle that forms in the alley behind my house when it rains.
I stand there this morning, as I have many times before
and watch the puddles percolate from the gas
seeping through the Earth.
If you listen closely, they pop
with a happy sort of sound.
I guess we missed our chance when they came to frack.
When they laid the pipeline,
we missed our chance
to make it our battle.