Monday, January 9, 2012

The Mountain Top

The Mountain Top

                                             Kayford, West Virginia

The mountain man points across a half-mile gap
to a hill where silver leaves shiver in strong gusts,
to family graves, centuries old, unreachable
without permission from the coal company.

Coal keeps the lights on, the company brags.
On in the funeral parlor, the mountain man says,
inviting Jim and me to visit what’s left of his hill
since the dragline shovel devoured Appalachia.

Face smudged, boots soaked in sludge,
the old coal miner still hoists hammer
and pick to a rocky ledge, sets charges,
chokes on dust, coughs blood, dies hard.

And now comes the behemoth, ten stories high
with a button’s push swallows the mountain,
each bite 50,000 tons of sandstone and root,
heaves its maw into the hollows below. 

Soil, forest, whatever’s above the black seams,
the company calls waste or overburden.
Inside the shovel the word is spoil, and once
the river’s sunk, fish killed, they speak of fill.

Taking the miner out of mining means 8 billion
pounds of explosives; 800 million acres
of forest; 500 mountains collapsed—leaves
the fresh yellow-painted signs saying HAZARD

               DO NOT EAT BASS
               BEYOND THIS POINT


We take the risky ride over washed-out gravel.
Dark leaf canopy, walls of sheer rock shadow
the way. Mud ditches raise the peril, coal
trucks racing down, hogging the road.

At the sunny crest, the mountain man guides us
past a yellow crack the size of a barbeque pit.
He calls it land rupture; I lean over to see where
it leads—straight down, a ragged black shaft.

Dynamite’s ripped open the belly, gutted the hill
from below. He says, please be careful, you don’t
want to fall in. We walk on toes by spindly trees
until the light opens to face the stark precipice.

The mountain next door has vanished, dropped
into the planet’s bowel, an entire forest gone.
A few hawks fly around aimlessly; the wind
carries the insistent whine of motors nearby.

At the brink stands one ghost tree, black roots
sinewy, naked in mid-air, branches stiff as bone.
The mountain man studies the bark. Don’t fall, 
he advises. No one will come to save you either.

                                             --Peter Neil Carroll

First published in Written Rivers: A Journal of Eco-Poetics (Winter 2011)

This poem first appeared in "Written Rivers":