Michael Garrigan / Yoav Friedlander
Barrel of Eels
My grandpa told me back before the dams
he’d take a wooden barrel and carve holes
down the sides curving around nails, sun shone
a kaleidoscope of wooden shadows
and coke oven light on diabase rock,
he’d sink those barrels into the river
with bait hung inside, nightcrawlers bloody
chicken livers, eels would squirm their way in
moulded pig iron until the morning,
he’d stand on limestone banks and drag barrels
thick rope calloused hands shoveled dead skin shad
scales on top of eels oily river snakes
floating then flailing as the water drained
he’d shove his hand down into the jellied
mess and grab one, nail down its head while
he sliced the top seam with a buck knife, skinning
it for the meat smoked over catalpa
and cherry, now it’s just flathead catfish
carp mercury those eels tasted so good.
Vultures pick deer carrion in the gravel edge of Route 81
they mean no harm in their clean up but get no love,
their beaks are made for the job they do.
Dragline excavators and drilling rigs fissure the horizon
steel rails and pendulums offer no buds in spring, rust yearlong.
Anthracite, now Marcellus Shale.
All – flesh, water, rock, dirt, stem –
pay a severance tax for existence.
Some of us band together, use language to make lines on paper
to create larger illusory selves that exist yet can’t be touched
or handcuffed or kissed or made omelettes on a rainy morning,
becoming an incorporated capital W and E and fracture geological lines
and shoot water down encased wellbores, flood the ground, pressure against pressure
to rupture gas, suck it dry, raze whole mountainsides, leaving only smears of burnt coal and gas
hazy like an August day even in December. We let
vultures pick at what’s left, and the individual I and lowercase
we pick up the bill and sweep the anthropogenic debris downstream.
A mythical west of riprap peaks
pulls into elixir of salt
water trenches, cheap beer bays
blurry steep stairs relentless
pedals pounding up Pittsburgh
inclines no rock to hide under
no fallen tree to slide along
Hand rolled cigarettes clasped
between chapped lips
currents catch pectoral fins
under indiscernible storms
smoke so deep
sunlight can’t reach
eyeshine through thin nylon
tent walls perched in the San Jacintos
the Siskiyou, on granite banks of tarns
vision blurry in each new water
shoulders raw from backpack straps
heavy with clothes, a book, a journal,
a caudal fin relentlessly swaying
back and forth back and forth
A cup of coffee each morning
weekends waxed and waned on water
sometimes a summertime jaunt
to Maine woods. A paycheck every two
weeks, dead batteries, budgets blown
annual floods from hurricanes that clip
us off the coast, from ice jams that thaw
suddenly in fifty degree January afternoons,
from dams that don’t release water
quick enough into the bay.
Deep breathes, dorsal fins
treading before a final run
upstream until we hit a dam
or get pecked by long knife herons, clamped by eagle talons
or we make it to where we started
and we wait and we are there
and we leave what there is left of us and water
recedes eelgrass strapped
across rock husks
drying out spent
Robbing the Pillars
Poppy Augustine crawled into the deepest
part of the Shamokin mines as a kid to rob the pillars,
drilling holes into the anthracite, placing dynamite
into walls of stone left to hold up the mountain,
lighting the fuse and running until he was far enough
to sit and wait for the blast
that had to last
at least sixty seconds. In that silence he made
eye contact with the mule, and if he fell still the oxygen was gone
sucked back to the surface and that meant to chase it. Retreat.
Once that silence was long enough
and those breathes taken
he’d grab his short shovel for his short arms and small hands
and start filling the carts with the blasted coal.
Did he blow out his carbide lamp and rest in that dark silence?
Did he play with dirt between his fingers? Did rocks become
toy trucks in those seconds of possible collapse?
I strand myself in streams and close my eyes
and wait for water crashing collapsing that covers
but does not bury become a silence that settles
onto me the bank the clouds of bugs the breaths of woods
gripping the soil and geology of their seed.
Everything becomes a silence if we give it long enough.
Michael Garrigan writes and teaches along the banks of the Susquehanna River in southern Pennsylvania. He enjoys exploring the river’s many tributaries with a fly rod and hiking the riverlands. You can find more of his writing at www.raftmanspath.com.
Yoav Friedlander born in Jerusalem, Israel in 1985. He received a B.A in Photographic Communications from Hadassah Academic College, Jerusalem in 2011 and left for Queens, New York where he still works and resides. In 2014 Yoav received his MFA from the department of Photography Video and Related Media at the School of Visual Arts in New York.