Bob Henry Baber is an Appalachian poet whose use of language influenced me strongly. The following poems are probably the strongest modern poetry influences in my life.
I grew up in an area (southern West Virginia) where I was criticized for my "potty mouth" from a very young age. Fortunately for me, both my parents exercise their right to freedom of speech on a daily basis and, maybe because of the shock value that comes with using such speech, I fell in love with "dirty words." I have received a lot of criticism for using "foul language" in my writing. Apparently, a lot of people (especially junior high and high school teachers) don't like "cuss words" but, sometimes, "curse words" make a pretty strong point. These poems are an example of that and I have Mr. Baber to thank for illustrating this point for me.
I'm also a tree-hugger that grew up surrounded by coal companies. The message of these poems also helped me realize that I wasn't the only West Virginian who thought that coal should be left in the past and that West Virginian economy should strive for industries that don't destroy our natural resources (just think, coal is the beginning process in the formation of diamonds. How rich could we have been if we'd waited instead of digging up and burning all that potential money?).
So thank you Bob, for just being you. In a time when most teens are coerced to fit in by peer pressure, you made me feel okay for just being me.
The Stripping of Cold Knob
Earth is alive. The soil is her flesh, the rocks are her bones, the wind is her breath, trees and grass are her hair. She lives spread out, and we live on her. When she moves, we have an earthquake. ~From an Okanogan Legend~
God's Renegade? Contemporary Neanderthal? Satan's Blood Brother?
What kind of man were you, Maust?
How great was the audacity or ignorance
that compelled you to gut Cold Knob --
God's jewel, the beauty, third highest peak in the state?
What crossed your mind
when your blade turned the first rib up to air,
when the coal, exposed at last, lay in a heap at your feet?
And when you looked out over your legacy
to the Greenbrier Valley and Virginia
did you almost feel akin to the creator
knowing you had the brute power to wreck in one short year
what eternity had wrought?
Maust, did the coal light Cleveland for eleven minutes?
Did you turn a handsome profit on the hunchback of grief?
Did the boy from Scarsdale laugh all the way to a Florida bank
when he told the Great State of West Virginia
where it could stick its $50 an acre Reclamation Bond?
And did your heart ever know guilt or remorse, Maust --
the pang of a man who has Mother Fucked nature?
Or did you roar off to town
tightening your swashbuckling pants
and bragging of your exploits
all over what was still left of creation
til drunken sleep reclaimed you?
did the spirits of trees come then
to haunt your fitful dreams?
did a chorus of ancient rocks
curse you in the dead of night?
did bulldozers strip the skin from your flesh?
did men with green eyes rip black guts
from your breast and leave you to die
unattended and Canadian cold on the side of the knob
your pathetic demise frozen in the eyes of stoic deers and black bears?
If there is justice in the world
Maust they did so
they did so
Cold Knob, ReclaimedFrom scalped rim to the blue ridge stretch
(Putting Lipstick on a Corpse)
(Putting Lipstick on a Corpse)
violet mist draped towards Trout Valley
from Kennison Mountain and Bushy Ridge
designated by rustic timber company plaque --
behind our back, in shale at highwall base
the rustic timber company pine-seedlings,
hostages of stupidity,
half-dead issue of our greed,
are a quarter century old.