Poet’s Notebook: When do you say, “This is my battle!”? My poem, “To make it our battle”, starting with a reflection on how this collaborative poem came to be written. 

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.


3 thoughts on “Poet’s Notebook: When do you say, “This is my battle!”? My poem, “To make it our battle”, starting with a reflection on how this collaborative poem came to be written. 

  1. madhappycrafter

    This breaks my heart. Well done poem; it made me cry. I would also like to read Lee Burkett’s words as he wrote them.

    I was just back in PA – my home state. While I was fighting for years against pipelines out west – my home for 38 years – PA was devastated by fracking. How could I not know that? I walked around home turf, with creeks and hilly, winding roads, deciduous forests – knowing that there are pipelines everywhere underfoot, especially in my county, Delaware County. A new pipeline is going down my sister’s rural street – 50 feet from their front door; some waste product of fracked gas to be shipped to China to make polyester jackets or bottles or whatever. They even sell these waste products to over there. Radon seeps up from the Marcellus and Utica Shale beds. Earthquakes increase.
    The newest pipeline’s going UNDER another house which sits right on the road. They fought for awhile. Finally, they took the money. In Pa, it’s take the money or lose your place to eminent domain. This is epidemic everywhere.

    The time to pray and fight for our lives and the right of water to be clean is now, and now, and forever now. The place is wherever you are. Tribes and bands once roamed all through the Americas. As far as I’m concerned, this land is still theirs, and they still know best how to steward it.

    I’m back out west now. Still, I’m haunted by PA – home turf to my soul and never forgotten, always loved, land dearest to my heart like no other. I feel helpless and sad. Maybe, like you, I should try to write a poem. Thank you for yours.

    1. garylindorff Post author

      I just reread this. Thanks for weighing in like this. It is vital that we share this way. I wish we all did more of it because there is so much to share at this deep-deep level. I just blogged about Dreaming (large ‘D’) vs dreaming. I find that when I work with people as a dream-worker or as a shamanic practitioner, this firewall comes up when people start unlocking the power of their emotions and imagination. They say, “but isn’t it ‘just’ my imagination?”. As if that undercuts the credibility of experience, of poetry and art and dreams and vision etc. Well, of course it is, but imagination is nothing less than our interface for “reality”, for nature, for Dreaming, for archetypal experiencing, for life! If we can’t trust our imagination and depend on (!) our imaginations to inform of us, what do we have? It narrows everything down to a life stripped of emotional engagement with the universe. I look at a fracked landscape and I feel intensely for that landscape. It makes me want to weep and cry out! A world without imagination is a padded cell, a sterile laboratory.

  2. madhappycrafter

    correction; you lose the easement. In the above case, that means the people would lose their home and most of their land, which sits on the road. Thank you again. Your poem is important.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s