Photo by Antrim Caskey, copyright used by permission.

This poem was inspired by my visit with Larry Gibson at Kayford Mountain. I was fortunate to listen to Larry and Maria Gunoe's stories at the West Virginia Mountaintop Removal Writer's Tour. The following is the first of a series of poems I'm working on.You can hear Larry and Maria talking with Steve Mellon (email) of the Pittsburg Post Gazette in the February 26, 2006 slideshow, Mountain Trouble (archive.org copy), which accompanied the story, "In West Virginia, citizens battle against the mining companies carving off their mountaintops," by Diane Jones (email)  

from APPALACHIA'S LAST STAND by Beth Wellington


Picture our fifty
acres, just one family's piece
of Kayford Mountain.

That metal farm gate
used to mark our line, the steep
farm road wound, benign,

though old growth hardwoods,
song birds in flight, both sides a
blessed continuum

of Almost Heaven
West Virginia. Our farm gate's
now The Gates of Hell.

The smell's not brimstone
but ANFO, ammonium
nitrate and fuel oil.


The same Devil's brew
at Oklahoma City
Belfast, Gaza Strip:

terrorists, they call
truck bombers, but Blankenship's
"a big employer."

Such liars, he hires
so few to drive the drag lines:
maggots chewing up

our hills to rubble,
burying headwater streams
that sang us to sleep.

We keep thinking we'll
wake and the knobs will be there.
We keep thinking no

family photos
need be bolted to our walls
to withstand the blasts.

Big Coal has its way
they will blow up Blair Mountain.
Permits are pending.


Eighty years ago
10,000 miners rose up
ten days at Spruce Run

while federal troops
fired: civil war to keep
us company slaves.

Blow up Blair Mountain?
Feature Vicksburg, Bull Run gone
for thirty year's coal.

Mountains should abide
but Massey plays God
scattering our peaks.

How can we be the
Mountain State without mountains,
our home, a war zone?


When I sent the poem out yesterday for Verbal Events, I also sent a copy to John Dufresne (blog), who respond:
Terrific work about a depressing situation. Damn. Time to to John Prine’s Muhlenburg County . “Mr. Peabosy’s coal train has hauled it away.”
It's always good to listen to Prine.

It's also good to let Congress know we want the Clean Water Protection Act passed. Last night, I asked Cindy Rank, (email), chair of the Mining Committee of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy what single thing about Mountaintop Removal should be broadcast. The Clean Water Protection Act was her vote.

As I wrote for November's LLRX.com essay, "Mountaintop Removal Sites - "Strip Mining on Steroids"
One of the casualties of the Republican-led House of Representatives was H.R. 2719, the Clean Water Protection Act, introduced by Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) on May 26, 2005. Although the bill boasted a bipartisan co-sponsorship with Rep. Christopher Shays, (R-CT) and gained 74 additional co-sponsors, it never made it out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure's Committee's Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment. This is the third time such legislation has been submitted. Pallone introduced the measure as H.R. 4683 on 5/8/2002 (gaining 36 co-sponsors) and as H.R. 738 on 2//2003, (gaining 64 co-sponsors).
I don't know that the lame ducks will pass this, but it's good to write now to your members of Congress and then write again, if the item has to be re-introduced in the 110th session. You can find a model letter at the Appalachian Voices campaign. I suggest you generate your own letter from your own email or fax, in order for it to have the most weight. (I hear tell that the anthrax scare still slows the snail mail.)

I hear there's talk of organizing a national op-ed and letter to the editor campaign. I'll fill you in on the coordination, if I can get more details. In the meantime, be thinking of what you might write.

For another striking photograph of Larry on his land, see "New Coal Isn't Old Coal" by 2001 Alicia Patterson fellow, Rudy Abramson for his project ""The Latter Days of King Coal: Wealth, Poverty & Public Policy in Appalachia". Abramson (email) is the co-editor with my friend Jean Haskell (email) of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (UT Press, 2006). He also chairs the advisory committee of the Insitute for Rural Journalism and Social Issues.

Other news:

An interesting story from the Wall Street Journal on November 15, "One More Time for Judicial Nominees."

It's not only Strickler the Bush keeps on pushing. What happened to his promised bi-partisanship? For more info on the environmental records of his nominees, see Judging the Environment, a joint project of Earthjustice and the Community Rights Counsel, two public service law firms.

Join my friend Barry and me tomorrow at the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy's Social Justice U if you're in Roanoke. For details (and to preregister before five today), click here.