Morgan Cain Grim of Floyd County, Virginia on MTR

Illustration compiled from Daniel Shea's "Mountaintop Removal Site" and "West Virginia" in his 2007 series Removing Mountains. While Shea had a grant for that series, he is holding a print sale to fund Plume, his current photographs of Southeast Ohio and "its unusually dense concentration of coal-fired power plants."


I wrote on July 10 about the 5' by 3' poster at a Prestonburg, Kentucky golf course, featuring a semi-nude photograph of Ashley Judd. Accompanying the photograph was the slogan,

Ashley makes a living removing her top. Why can't coal miners?

By permission, I'm publishing here the poem "Topless," in which Morgan Cain Grim of Floyd, VA. Morgan examined the comparison of topless women to topless mountains back in 2009. For more information on Grim, see the bottom of this post.


TOPLESS (Listen along as Grim reads her poem here)

I read quickly as his car sped by…
curious what token he offered the world,
what statement defined him enough to brand his vehicle.
Squinting, I made out the small words on his bumper sticker:

The car sped off into the distance, but the slogan did not.
It stayed with me. Lingering. Repeating. Stuck.
Taking me back to a sad day.
A field trip unlike childhood years
with packed lunch and souvenir money.
The day I saw a mountain decapitated.
Invaded. Stripped. Topless.

With a stab to my chest, I dissected the words:
Topless mountain. Topless woman.
But no sensual silhouette would come to mind.
No ripened breasts, exposed, and proud.
Instead, a woman, in mourning like the mountain.
With shameful scars in place of breasts.
Wounds: Exposed. Abashed.
Where cancer had spared her life, but stolen her bosom.
Invaded. Stripped. Topless.

Is this what the driver meant?

The words were branded on my skin like his bumper.
Even though his car was infinitely distant from me…
As distant as roots feel, ripped from their earth.
As distant as babes feel, weaned from the nipple.
As distant as the woman and the mountain
from nature’s intentions.

All I thought of was the woman, the mountain.
All I felt was their shame. A victim’s shame.
Unjustly felt. Unjustly suffered.
I stared into her, I stared unto the mountain.
My eyes trying to apologize.

Her eyes stared back…
telling me how it once was.
How the bare chest she clutched once nursed babes.
How her breasts gave strength to precious little lives.
How she once knew herself through them,
part of her distinct shape, femininity, identity.
How she never knew she loved them…
never knew she would be without them.

The mountain, too, stared back at me…
speaking the wisdom of a timeless elder.
Tales of changes and seasons. Life and death.
Animal, tree, rock, fern.
The springs of life that once flowed abundantly.
The billions of years spent climbing, moving.
So slowly that man could not notice.
The infinite, patient journey since creation.

They stared back at me.
Telling me how it would never again be.
Of what was forever severed.
Irreversible. Irreplaceable. Gone.
Invaded. Stripped. Topless.

I stared. I listened. I cried.
Heavy tears turned to cleansing flood,
baptizing my stained conscience.
And then…I knew.
Healthy. Vivacious. Proud.
A new slogan branded to my soul!
A new song for you, woman,
a new ballad for you, mountain:

Woman, you survived.
Live shameless. Live assured
of tomorrow’s cure.
Mountain, live to see
God’s glory restore man’s rape.
For long before draglines,
there lived prophets, proclaiming:
“The Lord’s house shall be established
on the top of the mountains!”

You survived. You breathe.
And with all the life left in you,
You strive. You fight.
You live.
To see a future
with no more
Invaded. Stripped. Topless.


About the poet

Grim was a senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies at Virginia Tech when "Topless" won first prize in the Steger Award for undergraduate poetry on April 24, 2009. Here's a picture of her accepting the award, standing along side poet Nikki Giovanni, who administered the award and University President Charles Steger, who funded it.

A honors graduate, Grim, while at Tech, also introduced Appalachian culture to Spain, and eventually brought Spanish gospel back to its African-American roots. While at Tech she also interviewed members of Wakefield, an African-American community in preparation for publishing her 350-page honors thesis: "“Wake Forest: Voices That Tell of a Faith Community.”

Endnote: the poster and permission

So, what about the unnamed person who funded the poster of Judd? Did s/he appropriate a work of art without permission or credit? I've written Caroline Noseworthy, a representative for the photographer, Ruven Afanador, to try and find out. If I hear back, I'll update this post.

Jul 17, 2010, 3:19 PM

Folks are speculating that the semi-nude photograph of Ashley Judd used in the 5' by 3' poster on a golf course in Kentucky is the one taken by Ruven Afanador for the 2006 Marie Claire story by Lucy Kaylin, "Ashley Judd: The Good Fight: As the global ambassador of Youth AIDS, actress Ashley Judd has stepped into the role of a lifetime: a knowledgeable, caring, committed crusader hell-bent on making a

According to a contemporaneous story, the cover is this one which appears to be similar to this one which accompanied the web version of the article.

I'm wondering if you can tell me if Mr. Afanador still holds rights to the picture, and if not, who does. If he does retain rights, did the anonymous funder of the poster obtained permision from Mr. Afanador to use the image?

An a hat tip for the recording

Thanks go to Mimi Pickering (email) of Appalshop who sent a link to a recording of the poem after WMMT posted an audio file posted July 8, 2010, while we were discussing the brouhaha on the Appalnet email list.