Categories
Commentary

Not Flood Nor Fire, Just A Blog Unattended

Here we go, boys and girls. I miss you all when I’m away, and look forward to catching up and finding out what you’ve been up to while I’ve been “away” from the wonderful world of WordPress. At the same time, tons of detritus has built up behind the dam while I’ve been attending to other concerns. So, let the fires begin….

The_Great_Conemaugh_Valley_Disaster

Nothing like a marginally obscure, and somewhat tenuous, historical reference to jump back into the blog, but…

I live about 30 miles from Johnstown, PA, sometimes known as “Flood City, USA.” That’s gallows humor, northern Appalachian style. Johnstown was a major steel producing city built in the bottom of river valleys where the Stonycreek and Conemaugh come together, but it has become more famous for the series of catastrophic floods that have swept through the city, beginning with the greatest and worst in 1889. Upstream, a private dam at a summer retreat owned by a group of mostly Pittsburgh-based super-wealthy robber barons, held back a lake on the Conemaugh, surrounded by ornate vacation mansions on beautifully manicured grounds. The rich folks would come up during the hot and humid summer months to escape the pollution in the city. The earthen dam didn’t merit a lot of attention. It was a cobbled together, poorly engineered thing that had been repaired using highly technological means such as, ahem, shoving tree stumps into leaks. May of 1889 was a particularly damp month, and in the last days of the month the rains were incessant.

On May 31, the damn broke, releasing 20 million tons of water in the already engorged watershed. Johnstown, about a dozen miles downstream, never had a chance. Hundreds were killed as the initial wall of water scoured the valley floor, and many more died at the stone bridge in the city, where a magnificent buildup of debris piled up and, adding horror atop horrors, caught on fire. At the time, it was considered the greatest disaster in American history, and even now it the carnage has been eclipsed only by the 9/11 Attacks and the great Galveston flood. The city would suffer additional floods of lesser magnitude in 1936 and 1977.

Unlike at the South Fork Dam, no one will die from my poorly maintained blog, but the device for this post crept into my head and I decided to roll with it. Inattention, stuff building up at the dam–if nothing else, I found a way to throw a little history your way.

In the meantime, it is time to let the clean-up begin, and that starts with getting all the saved Junk sorted and passed along to you. We may even see days with multiple posts…

Categories
link Poetry

The Colorado Independent: News Poems

I’m continually scouring the internet, looking for poetry to roll around in like one of those crazed grizzlies on Kodiak Island loll about in rotting whale flesh–intoxicated by the joy and sensory overload of sustenance, bounty, excess.  I found that The Colorado Independent is doing a series on poems inspired by the news–don’t think about it, just check it out. 

With more to come, there are already a couple of really great pieces, especially this one, presently the most recent entry.

And while you’re there, check out this:
David Mason, the son of Colorado natives, is a literature and creative writing professor at Colorado College and the state’s poet laureate. He grew up in Washington state, lived overseas for many years and moved to Colorado to teach in 1998, determined to write something that anchored him in his people’s landscape. Mason’s 2007 verse novel, “Ludlow” (Red Hen Press), is 600 stanzas of poetry about fictional characters’ experience of the Colorado Coal War of 1913-1914. It’s also a meticulously reported journalistic study about coal miners’ struggle against the Rockefeller-owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, and the bloodshed and heartbreak that culminated in the state-led attack on the strikers, their wives and children 100 years ago this week. The book has inspired an opera by composer Lori Laitman. Mason recently spoke with Colorado Independent editor Susan Greene.
http://www.coloradoindependent.com/147142/the-massacre-in-iambic-pentameter

Categories
My Poetry Poetry

The Titan Was Brought Low

The Titan was brought low by a beast
so small and slow a grain sets it in shadow.
A long year he lay, first modest and afraid,
his massive arms and beautiful, terrifying hands
jutting out helpless beneath short sheets.
I looked long and unflinching into his eyes,
waiting for the burst of the dam, the warning
wail of the train riding the crest of the wave
and then the flood, and then the fire.
I might have cried at the old man, wrecked
and left stranded, burning at the bridge,
but nothing can be had from a wrung dry sponge.

Categories
Fiction Excerpt Uncategorized

West From Chicago…excerpt from another old story

*this is the final excerpt from what I’ve called the “big truck” series–an abandoned, unfinished road trip novel I lost interest in 17 years ago and recently revisited.  I added it partially in response to posts by our friends over at the excellent Great Plains Trail blog–where they’re building something awesome.  The Great Plains are remarkable, and filled with beauty and wonder both magnificent and subtle, but all that open land always strikes me as a little spooky, a sentiment that carried over into the following passage

From the hive he drove straight on, stopping three hundred miles in, when the fuel tank approached one quarter.  Standing tight-shouldered and shivering at a self-service pump, feeling the fuel surge through the hose and into the truck, a tangible exchange of power, perched on the edge of unending Iowa, he looked out on hard gray fields frosted soil and stubble pierced here and there with copses of Imagetrees clustered  about tiny empires of tidy framed houses, barns, and outbuildings: feudal kingdoms of maize, wheat, and soy.  He wondered what sort of paradise it would be once the trees donned their canopies; but something about the flatness of the land unnerved a young man who had spent the relatively few years of his life traveling far, but only in latitudes, only up and down the broad, fecund spine of the Appalachians and the lands that separated those ancient mountains from the sea that once lapped at their flanks.  Too young to fear death or need great favors, his musings rarely turned to the protestant God who had perched, predatory, above his childhood, but he thought it chilling that in the great exposures of plain and prairie, there was no place to cower and hide and cringe-that God could reach down to smite and scatter and howl vengeance unimpeded by mountain or foothill or cliff.  And indeed He did, Hart realized, needing no great powers of concentration to recall the droughts and floods and blizzards and twisters that ravaged the region in biblical justice, almost ritually scourged and scoured the Midwest.  He supposed that these were the prices exacted for the privilege of living in the long, flat shadow of God.