Peter Neil Carroll
Peter Neil Carroll’s poem “Appalachia” appears in his 2012 collection of poetry, A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places (Hollywood: Poetry Press of Press Americana), winner of the Prize Americana. Earlier titles include Something is Bound to Break and Fracking Dakota. He is also the author of a memoir, Keeping Time (University of Georgia Press, 1990). He lives in Belmont and is currently Poetry Moderator of Portside.org.
The man at the river
with watery blue eyes tells me
how to find everything
he’s lost. Scratchy voiced, pointing
a crusty finger
like a needle knitting
he weaves the route:
first to Cousin Jack’s barn
near the yard where the collie sleeps
and across a narrow bridge
by the broken white fence
where Dave’s truck flew off
leaving his Jeannie
and the two baby girls. Turn
at the gray-stone post office.
Can’t miss it. Just opposite
Frank’s busted Ford that needs a motor,
he’s waiting for the government check.
Now if you see the church, fresh-
painted white, you’ve gone too far.
Turn back in Sharon’s drive,
she don’t ever mind, her boys
left these parts years ago.
Stories hang here, ghost-sheets
over the depleted woods. I stop
in a clearing to look at leaves fluttering,
swirling off sycamore, hickory, oak—
the way a child turns back to wave—
the mountain stripped at the ridge.
Copyright © 2012 by Peter Neil Carroll. This poem originally appeared in A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places (Hollywood: Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2012). Winner of the Prize Americana. Used with permission of the author.
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 me to visit what’s left of his hill since
the last 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 it 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—leaving
behind yellow-painted signs saying,
DO NOT EAT BASS
BEYOND THIS POINT
Copyright © 2022 by Peter Neil Carroll. Used with permission of the author.
Read Peter Neil Carroll’s poem, “Borscht“.
Find Peter’s books at the library!
Something is Bound to Break (2019)
The Odyssey of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade (1994)
Keeping Time: Memory, Nostalgia, and the Art of History (1990)