Can a poem stop fracking? No, but it can put some fun into the effort to stop this rush to industrialize our rural areas by promising quick fortunes while downplaying the hazards to our underground water sources. Listening to the radio the other day, I heard a fracking PR flack claim that windshield wiper fluid contains some of the same toxic chemicals as the fracking fluids that we fear will contaminate our wells and aquifers. If we’re not worried about windshield wiper fluids washing off into our water supply, he implied, why should we be worried about fracking?
Well, the best reply to that kind of fairy tale logic is a poem.
When I heard Dwain Wilder read his “Jack o’ Wells” at a poetry gathering in the Finger Lakes, I fantasized that this poem might spread like “Howl” to be read aloud in coffee houses, church meeting rooms, wherever poets speak up for their beliefs.
Earlier this year, Dwain co-edited Liberty’s Vigil, The Occupy Anthology: 99 Poets among the 99%. His activism dates back to the Civil Rights and Anti-Vietnam War Movements of the Sixties. He’s also a longstanding student of Zen Buddhism. He lives in Rochester and makes Appalachian dulcimers. He slips a poem into each one he sells.
Jack o’ Wells
By Dwain Wilder
This is the well that Jack drilled.
This is the Earth
that lay shorn and still
that bore the well that Jack drilled.
These are the pipes, arrayed in racks, and the concrete pad
that was anchored to Earth
that lay baren and silent,
that founded the well that Jack drilled.
This is the Christmas Tree complex of valves
that handled the flow in and out of the pipes,
that was fastened and sealed to the wellhead pad
that was founded in Earth
that lay mutely facing the offing
that commenced the well that Jack drilled.
This is the rig tower, decked out in lights,
that rises above the turmoil below
that guided the gimlet
through the Christmas Tree cluster of valves and pipes
that augured the Earth
that lay pierced without breath beneath the pad
that delved the well that Jack drilled.
This is the Jack whose alchemical broth
of poisons and secrets in millions of gallons
will plunge down the well, gagging the Earth
like a force-fed goose
far under the rig, spangled in stars,
that sits astride the Christmas Tree’s pad
that gluts the well that Jack drilled.
This is the Jack who throws open the valve
that blasts the pressure under the Earth
that fracks open her rock with the noxious tea
that Jack o’ Warlocks brewed by the tank-load
prepared from the townfolk’s water supply
pumped from trucks through the Christmas Tree cluster
under the rig like a bright ruddy fang
that ruined the Earth
that finished the well that Jack drilled.
This is the shale in the jack-shocked Earth
shattered and crazed, her jaws locked open
by the clever drink
that was nursed by the trucks
that Jack o’ Valves slammed at the Earth
that her body might burst
that brought in the well that Jack drilled
This is the breath from the gape-jawed Earth,
caught at the rig, loathesome in red,
tended by Jack o’ Valves working the Christmas Tree,
sending the gas through the pipe-line maze
to profit the well that Jack drilled.
This is Jack and Jill in their kitchen, signing a well-paying lease
(which does not state that the Earth will shudder)
that will free them both from his toilsome trade of cleaning the waters
that feed the hamlet by the Ourswimming River,
that Jack o’ Mixtures will draught and poison
that Jack o’ Valves’ will surge at the Earth
that fractures the fastened shale miles down
that will lock its jaws open with tiny sands
that Jack o’ Mixtures secretes in his pottage
under the rig that’s all decked out in welcoming red,
for Jack and Jill o’ Waters have signed the lease
that permitted the well that Jack drilled.
This is the Jack who drives the truck
that sucks up Jack o’ Draughts’ disgorging dregs
returned to the wellhead by Jack o’ the Christmas Tree,
that the lock-jawed Earth
might gurgle their poison out of her throat
that Jack o’ Trucks might haul it away:
that may be bonded for Jack o’ Waters to clean for the village,
or maybe just dumped by the Ourswimming River,
‘cross the meadow from some jack o’ the lease
not so far from some brightly lit tower
that rears, now done, on its Christmas Tree
that debauches the well that Jack drilled.
Here’s Jack o’ Valves,
‘lone in the night but staunch at his Christmas Tree,
sipping the coffee that smells like his clothes,
working to pipe off the Earth’s stinking breath
with foul-looking hands that worry his wife;
sour his manner but doing his best
under the rig tower, grisly in red,
to cash out this well that asshole jackass drilled.
Here’s Jack o’ Waters madly reading that lease
(which does not state
that they both would get headaches,
that the sky would turn funky and misty at night,
that their neighbor’s face would sometimes go numb),
while Jill makes them coffee; she draws at the sink,
which explodes when she turns their water well’s spigot,
with holy hell’s scorch and fetid breath.
“I knew it, just knew it, that something would happen
the minute that tricked-out bitch ‘cross the road
planted herself ‘top that smarmy red Christmas Tree, vomiting filth,
that squats on that god damned blow-job pad
that hides that frick-fracking well that jackal drilled!”
This is the Jack who ventures his money to turn a quick buck.
And this Jack o’ Millions may care for the Earth
or care not at all in the financing game
where money’s the nothing that makes aught but money
earn it and spend it and send it around
hold to the nothing that’s all that money
the details don’t matter
it’s all in the play that jacks the Earth’s jaws
that lies ‘neath the rigs o’ the garish dull night
that serves but the wells
that helluva Jack drills.
Here Jack o’ Wells sits at his desk, writing the checks
that Jack o’ Millions will honor on Wall Street
that all Jacks o’ Labor earn with their craft
that satisfies all of us jacks o’ Lease
that sends the o’ Waters off to Florida
that makes Jack o’ Millions billions and billions
from the jack-fracked Earth
that makes all the plastics
that furnish our cars and all of our trucks
that burn our oil
(That’s secured by our Jacks o’ War – just like our Freedom!)
that travel the asphault
that runs in black ribbons all o’er the bright land,
that lights up the lamps and fuels the stoves,
that all of us Jacks and all of us Jills
may nightly to bed in our warming homes
that dot the banks of the Noswimming River,
flowing down to Pastitspeake Bay,
that sit across from the gayly lit Christmas Trees
that govern all of the mazes of pipes
that send out that wonderful life-giving methane
that comes from under those handsome pads
that mark the sites of these amazing wells
that our belovéd devil o’ Jack drilled.
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The Mother Grouse Blog is produced by Will Nixon, author of My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse and Love in the City of Grudges available on-line.