bottle caps with two hands, never stops.
She’s lived five years on Bakkan Basin, sink
of oil, natural gas. Big changes, she brags.
Clear skies in summer, tawny hills swoop
to the horizon, spacious
as a dry ocean, maze of yellow-browns
hinting at tangles underground.
High-pressure chemicals pour
through earthen cracks, promising oil
four billion barrels, enough to make
normal people tolerate turmoil.
A farmer in overalls crosses the blacktop.
I don’t see another human for 160 miles
except a driver at the crest of a 24-carat acre
taking pictures of sunflowers.
The billboard reads: A SMILE INCREASES
YOUR FACE VALUE
Farmers live off camera, leave traces:
fence wire, water tanks; coils of hay
ripen by the roadside. A shed implodes,
a silver tag hangs from a cow’s ear.
A white pickup scorches over yellow lines
to pass five eighteen-wheelers, racing
head-on into traffic. The driver veers
left into the dirt, gray spirals rising,
shoots back two lanes, a man in a rush.
At Ludlow, a craftsman carved a cross high
as an A-framed church; in Buffalo, a thresher
hovers like sculpture. Over Bowman
a crop duster crawls, the pilot a shadow on glass.
Taxes up as land values rise, shrugs a man
on a barstool. Yeah, says the guy working
his sixth Fat Tire beer, now I got to buy
flood insurance. Paying the tab, thumbs
pick open a roll of hundred dollar bills.
At the center of a flaxen field splashes
of unearthly blue break the spectrum,
oil pumps bowing toward the land
like mechanical horses drawing oats.
The woman brewing coffee says blue pumps
aren’t worse than silver windmills. Those men,
her head tips vaguely west, send paychecks
home; an’ when the boom’s done
the digging stays underground, I hope.
Tanks shaped like hayricks cast
shadows on fresh-mowed wheat. Swarms
of spidery backhoes grind into
the soil. A gas-flare tints sooty air.
Fractured earth belches, coughs up gas,
grassland pulsing above subterranean seas.
Darkness carries dreams of power, vapors
lured from the underworld. Bedrock
prepares to heave, wakening the demon.
* * * *
"Fracking Dakota" originally appeared in Turtle Island Quarterly, Fall 2013. This poem has been reprinted with the poet's permission.
Peter Neil Carroll has been writing about the sense of American place for many years. He’s the author of a volume of poetry, Riverborne: A Mississippi Requiem (2008) and the memoir, Keeping Time (2011). His collection A Child Turns Back to Wave: Poetry of Lost Places has won the Americana Prize for Poetry, 2012 from the Institute for American Popular Culture. His poems have appeared recently in Written Rivers: A Journal of Eco-Poetics, PoetryBAY, and Sand Hill Review. He lives in northern California and reads frequently in the San Francisco Bay Area.