Whose life is this anyway?



A white plastic bag hangs high in a tree,
A vacant soul blown by a swirling wind:
Breathing in and breathing out
Like a broken balloon on a naked limb.

Whose life is this, anyway?
The loudest towboat on the Ohio
Owned by American Electric Power —
(AEP) emblazoned on the oval smoke stack
Now the fourth largest barge operator
With 1,800 barges and 45 tow boats
Pushes a load of black Kentucky coal
Sending a loud steady groan
That echoes through the town
And up and down the long-hilled valley.

Her stern engines churn the brown water white
As she makes time past Madison to ports north and east:
Sunrise Indiana, Cin City, ship that Appalachia
Coal to Pittsburgh Pennsylvane-I-eh:

Whose life is this anyway?
Down in eastern Kentucky
And western West Virginia
Descendants of the Hatfields and McCoys
Try to keep their heads above
The arsenic and mercury flood
Of thousands of acres of coal sludge:

Non-biodegradable mining byproducts
Held in ponds that periodically break loose
And come cascading down
In rivers of thick gray slurry
Creeping and burbling up
To windows and back doors
Taking over the rusty sliding boards
And bar-b-ques, the jungle gyms
Covered with slick poison slime:

“Thank God the economy is back in swing
And we’re ripping out enough coal
To make some sludge,”
Said the head of the local Environmental
Protection Agency, himself
A former mine owner.

Whose life is this anyway?
Not those folks whose houses back up to
A river of coal slurry
Whose kids are afraid to go to sleep at night
Whose property is worth zero:
Forget that catfish pole,
Young man, break it over your knee,
And the swimming hole of your youth,
Old boy: all that 1900s crap is history;

Get with the scheduled program,
Tune in to the new millennium:
You gots to live in virtual reality now
Cause real reality ain’t fit to live in —
Crawl inside your smartphones
All ye who can afford them
All ye who are brave enough
To march forward like soldiers
Into our brave new cybernetic world order
And lock your doors
Against the coming storm. 


Fossil fuel Power plants are one of the greatest threats to our health. At least 10 billion pounds of coal ash containing arsenic, lead and mercury is sitting on the banks of the Ohio River. In addition to a multitude of toxic air pollutants, fossil fuel power plants emit carbon dioxide, which is fueling global climate change.  But instead of trying to control these emissions, Trump picked Andrew Wheeler, a prominent lobbyist for the coal industry, to head our Environmental Protection Agency so that he could protect the rich and powerful.

Featured Photograph: by  Mark Cornelison


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