History of Abuse in Pennsylvania                                                               —Robert Gibb

                                                       for Phil Coleman, tabulator

Anthracite Coal

Cordwood a cottage industry
In the early villages, trees felled for fuel.
After which the collieries,
Their lunar gray landscapes,
The run-off of toxins into streams.
Their pit-heaps and tipples.


A clear-cut Tunguska, hemlocks
Harvested for tannin, pines for pulp,
The other stands for lumber,
All hauled out on the makeshift tracks
They packed up with them,
And habitat, and birdsong at dawn.


Unguent for some oleum infirmorum,
Given enough mischief and time.

Bituminous Coal

Breaker boys on the chutes
Before the first child labor laws,
Glaucoma of pit ponies till mid-century,
Black lung still for the miners.
Plants to peat to lignite to coal.
Tonnages of the thermal fossil.

Surface Mining

To have dug no deeper, all this time,
Than the vaunted “bottom line.”


Long Wall Mining

Caving in each ceiling as they went,
Subsiding the seam, earth’s surface
Left to collapse where it might, pockets
Of exhaustion scattered in the woods
Which surround my house, and inside
That hairline crack in the plaster.


Well heads, flare pipes, slurry ponds.
It turns out we can turn a profit
By breaching the foundations, bashing
Water back into the rock. We can make
The ground quake, defiling the sills,
Because it’s all there for the taking.


Those three sad moons in alignment
In Edward Hopper’s painting “Gas,”
The isolated station lit at twilight
In the emptiness of whatever Midwest.
Americans, our rearview mirrors,
Our dystopias at the end of the road.


                                                Pity the poor planet
                                                —Robert Lowell

1. Deepwater Horizon (2010)

First a doe breaking cover from the underbrush,
Chased by a pair of feral cats.

Then, days later,
                            the near wing-clipped collision
Of a nighthawk and bat.

They felt like omens when the rig went nova,
Riddling coral reefs with those currents,

And the salt wedge of the estuary.
With crude oil and chemical dispersants.

After which:
                      the wrack of turtles and dying fish,
The tarred-and-feathered birds,

A sperm whale, fuchsia, filmed from above,
Breaching where the waters burned.

I still can’t get past what the cameraman said—
“It looked like it had been basted.”

2. “Zoo Owner Frees Animals, Kills Self” (2012)

The cages flung open, one by one, 
Like the seals of some dry-run Revelation,

He sent them out into the Ohio night,
Wild and baffled,
                              whelmed by the scents

They’d caught hints of through their fences—
Wolves and grizzlies, shadow-slinking cats,

All scoped now within cross-hairs
And the infrared light of the flares.

All but that one poor wayward creature,
His pistol about to flower in his mouth.

Walkie-talkie static.
                                    Sudden rifle bursts.
The frost-lit lawns in lockdown . . .

Ohio, where the passenger pigeon died,
Whose flights once plenished the skies.

Robert Gibb

Robert Gibb's books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.

ISSN 2472-338X
© 2017