Marc Harshman / A Breach


We are engaged in a great civil war
over the future of the land
upon which this nation of varied peoples stand,
of the land that has up to now nourished
and nurtured the people who
borrow from it their sustenance
– Anonymous

Open now the crystal fountain,
Whence the healing stream doth flow.   
– William Williams 1717-1791



            It’s been hand-signals, shouts all afternoon but now Roy lets in the clutch, turns the key, and the whirring slap of the Allis Chalmers’ idle is stilled.  I can hardly see for the sweat, brush the chaff from my sleeve, and drag the flannel across my face.  I notice Roy lift his cap to do the same.
            The sudden silence is godly.  Thunderclouds are lifting in the west.
            Good thing we got her done.
            I nod my head—too whipped to speak:  three hundred bales, two men, and this last sixty yet to get to the barn and into the mow.
            Roy’s eighty-two, but he slips off the metal seat like a teenager and lopes toward the trees below the far side of the knoll.  His back to me, he lifts a hand for me to follow.  Though I didn’t think I could move, I tramp behind him several hundred yards into the shade but even here it’s still hot—ninety degrees forecast—perfect for hay but takes it out of you.  I’d hayed with Roy several summers but never this back field off the point.
            Though we descend lower along the hill, we’re not headed for the run.  Eventually, he stops:  Listen.  And when the cicada overhead cuts its droning screed, I hear it, a steady, small splashing onto stone and, ducking under a tangle of briars, there’s the spring flowing out of its metal pipe.  I learn later Roy’s dad set it half a century ago into this mossy sandstone bank our path had skirted these last few minutes.  Looped over a sycamore branch hangs a single, blue enamel cup.  Roy’s bony, bronze hand slips it off, fills it, and hands it to me— holy hell, is it ever cold…  I have to sip to keep it from numbing my teeth.  But …my lovely Jesus – how can water be this sweet?  
            For the first time in hours, I cool off and, handing the cup back to Roy, slip down, my back against the uneven bank and feel my shoulders loosen, and I breathe.  We sit like this for a little eternity, lulled by the sound of this liquid God-gift, crystal-pure, raw- perfect and sacred water… I will remember this.  Even hours later, scratchy, throwing that last bale into the dark corner of the dusty mow, I will remember and know my thirst was slaked…. by water pouring free through a little hole in a pipe, through a little hole in the earth.








Huge new shipping facilities built along the coasts to ship overseas and so goes the argument about alleviating fuel shortages in the USA.


Job growth in the industry has been greatest (as a share of total employment) in West Virginia. Still, shale-related employment is less than 2 percent of total West Virginia employment and less than half a percent of total employment in all the other states.


Lift this cup to your lips, o taste and see:  Benzene, Ethylbenzene, Toulene, Xylene, Napthalene, Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons, Methano, Formaldehyde, Ethylene glycol, Glycol ethers, Hydrochloric acid, Sodium Hydroxide, C8, diesel fuel…


Murder. Prostitution.  Vehicular homicide.  Drugs.  Prostitution. Crumbling infrastructure in rural counties.  Oh, yes, groundwater contamination, the living water too fouled to drink, to bathe.  But these little catastrophes rarely make the national news….





Go ask . . . . Chesapeake, Antero, Dominion Energy, Stonewall Gas Gathering, LLC, Consol Energy, MarkWest, EQT, Trans Energy, Jay-Bee Oil and Gas, East Resources, Range Resources, Southwestern Energy Co, Williams Companies, Baker Hughes, DuPont, Schulumberger, . . . Halliburton.
Go ask them is there anything that trumps profit? This simple question answers all others.  That anything includes increased unemployment, species extinction, murder, prostitution, increased drug use, increased automotive violence, infrastructure collapse, flaming faucets, blackened water, poisoning of wildlife, cattle, children.  



            “How slake such a thirst?”
            I couldn’t stay and walked away, and minutes into hours later suddenly there was more water, a great sea and there was Jesus again, setting out to walk those waters, to calm the storming waves but then there were no waves, there was no storm, the disaster had already come and gone.  There was no sea. Everywhere was dry, dry sand.  It was the valley of dry bones, thousands and thousands of them and Jesus wept for these uncounted numbers of Lazarus-dead, and the twelve wept, and Mary wept, and Lazarus wept, and myself, and everyone I knew wept for how could even Jesus with his hands so bloodied and mangled ever begin to knit flesh and sinew back into these bones, how fix, how especially if there was no water to cleanse those wounds, to mop his sweet face, how when there was only bile and vinegar and licorice water, how to do all this without…without living water?

You shall not pollute the land in which you live, […] You shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell, for I the Lord dwell in the midst of the people of Israel.
                                              —  Numbers 35:33-34 ESV



                       — “Marcellus Miracle to Save The Economy”

Is it just the moon flaring
            behind the jagged silhouette of the ridgeline?
He is alone in the deep cliff-cut
            of the stream, shadow-less
            and wary – only the stream talking.
He’s seen enough this past year: 
            the wrecks, paved roads become dirt,
            Orma’s dog, Finley’s garden,
            his own mailbox… 

Forget compensation—find a lawyer,
            and before you know it things go missing around the farm,
            your wife gets anonymous threats.  Coincidences?
            Or that college boy murdered in Wheeling, or the two women
            crushed in their car by fracking pipe rolling off truck.
            Just an accident.  And not the fracking industry. The drivers were ‘ancillary workers.’

Vera Scroggins, unarmed but for words and silver hair is banned from setting foot on 312.5 square miles of northeast Appalachian Pennsylvania which is still in the democracy called America.  Or gag orders on children to never speak about Range Resources and what went on around Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania in 2011.

When the drill rigs came for the new gas
            every one was asleep
            with their eyes open
            and times were tough and money talked
            more persuasively than any stream.
So, tonight he’s standing beside the noisy stream, not sleeping but watching.
He wants to see, to see what they’re doing up there now.
Is it another screw-up, flames not moon-light, a flare-out
            or spill that’s found a cigarette, a spark?

When you can’t see the forest, can’t see the trees,
            well, you don’t miss your water till your well runs …
            dry or black, flames or poison.
Brookies lived in those pools on Lower Bowman, a night sky
            so brilliant with dark the stars pulsed in tune with living hearts.
The Chesapeake glare destroys the nigh
            and the 24/7 roar destroys the day
       — and we had the best well water in the county, cold and pure as any spring.

/ Originally published in Now & Then: The Appalachian Magazine, Vol. 31 #2, 2015. // Photo: Andrew Croft.


Marc Harshman is the seventh poet laureate of the state of West Virginia in the USA. His latest collection of poems, WOMAN IN RED ANORAK, was awarded the Blue Lynx Prize and published in 2018 by Lynx House / University of Washington Press. Harshman is also a winner of the Weatherford Award for poetry from the Appalachian Studies Association. His fourteenth children’s book, FALLINGWATER, co-authored by Anna Smucker, was published by Roaring Brook in 2017 and selected as an Amazon Book of the Month. His children’s books have been translated into Danish, Korean, Swedish, Spanish, and Japanese. Marc Harshman’s new poetry collection, THE SHADOW TESTIMONIES, is forthcoming from Salmon Press in the Republic of Ireland.   

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