Thursday, May 27, 2010

For Our Sins

On April 5, 2010, an explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch Mine trapped and killed twenty-nine coal miners inside a mountain in my home state of West Virginia. On April 20, 2010, a British Petroleum explosion in the Gulf of Mexico triggered a spill of up to 19,000 gallons of oil a day, one of the most devastating man-made disasters of our time which continues to this day. In my mind, the two disasters are inextricably linked. Sometimes I just do not understand what we are doing to ourselves and our world.


In the hills of West Virginia
we thirst for living water,

so we go on Sundays
at morning and at night,

and on Wednesdays, too,
we go, looking for a well

that isn't poisoned by
the runoff of our sins.

Someone said the Gulf
where fishes used to leap

is sacred, dead sea water,
but with men holed up

inside the mountain
gasping like the fleeing fish,

we can't imagine baptizing
ourselves in oil and gas and brine.

So we settle for a sprinkle
from polluted heaven’s springs

and mourn the lost that failed to flee

these poisoned, deadly streams.


  1. i like it's strong images man-fish-man-baptism, whoa.
    sometimes i have overly negative impressions about our near future. we're going to kill ourselves.

  2. we're definitely killing ourselves off in this world so hungry for power and money. this is an extremely powerful poem. the images surrender the reader to take notice. well done my friend, well done. hope all is well.

  3. It's a scary age, that's true. And your poem is a poignant testamony.

  4. Excellent connections to make, and I think you make a superb point with this. It's awful that it takes tragedy to even wake us up to the possibility of something being wrong. (Which of course doesn't mean we do anything about it.)

  5. I agree with naming constellations about how right on your connections are--a moving poem about a very, very serious problem that culturally we seem unwilling to face.

  6. We are what we do.

  7. And strangely enough, it's the anniversary of Dunkirk here today, which I am having a hard time talking about without crying this year, for some reason.
    And then these last two lines,

    and mourn the lost that failed to flee
    these poisoned, deadly streams.

    Thank you, Karen.

  8. SzelsoFa - I fear we have already poisoned ourselves. Look at the numbers of illnesses in certain areas and the increasing incidences of children being diagnosed with developmental and mental conditions. Environmentally, we are destroyers. I find that sad and scary.

    Naquillity - Thank you. We are, indeed. Sadly.

    The Bug - I agree. Wish I didn't or couldn't, but unfortunately, I do think it's a very scary time.

    Joseph - Yeah, and knowing and not doing is worst of all!

    John - Thank you!

    jason - ...and we do it repeatedly! Why would be expect different results?

    Titus - It's Memorial Day weekend here in the States, too, and we should never forget. Ever. Thanks, JoAnne.

  9. In the hills of West Virginia
    we thirst for living water...

    and on Wednesdays, too,
    we go, looking for a well

    Thank you Karen. Beautifully writ (what's beautiful and sad all at once?) (and that eludes me still). Thank you for contributing to this greater voice. Someday (I pray) will arrive, and that critical mass, and we'll awake.

    As well I too appreciated that link from the coal mines to open sea, and makes the whole that much more meaningful.

  10. Amen to those sentiments. The more we keep repeating them... maybe one day... Brave try.

  11. Karen, this is so powerful. As always, your poetry knocks me out of my seat with its heart and soul. When I was putting up my post (and deleting an even longer rant), I thought about you and your poem about the coal miners. Who is thinking about them now? What is happening to their families? It seems to have vanished from the news. I also thought about the people who experienced horrific flooding in Tennessee. They didn't get much press for some reason.

    I fear the people in the Gulf are already forgotten. This affects them in a way that only people who have lived and worked the water can truly understand. Thank you for remembering.

  12. Karen, I honor your words.

    In The Gulf

    We cannot move now,
    not in any direction
    that makes the kind of
    difference that makes
    a difference to the scope
    of dark coming things.

    He said the center
    cannot hold and I say it's
    already broken
    wide open. The flood
    pours through this shaking moment
    in huge oily globs.

  13. Strong words for a tough subject, Karen. I bemoan daily what we do to our world. I can't even look at footage of the oil disaster! I am so angry!
    Terrible thing, mining disasters. It seems no matter how much farther ahead we get with technology, the eventuality of being trapped in a mine gets no less certain.

    You have captured the futility of each situation and our accountability very well.


  14. wow. you're right - they are linked. and it's so sad that it takes the loss of life for us to see the disasters we create - disasters that we're sure we can manage, until we can't.

    powerful and haunting words.

  15. I fear by the time we will be willing to do things right, it'll be too late...

  16. Ah, if I only had a memory! But twice read is twice appreciated. I do really like the vibrancy of this poem, that it "brings even more to home" the message given. Now too glad to know the PLW was also pleased to include your poem. Twice thanks.