Pipeline memories: Poet recalls 'anger's awful roar'

J. I. Kleinberg

J. I. Kleinberg of Bellingham wrote this poem about the June 10, 1999 pipeline explosion in Bellingham.


She is singing when we meet

entrancing the morning with her fluent croon.

Nimble on the slippery shore

she wends downstream through the sandstone cleft.

I wasn't here to witness smoke or rub my eyes with fire

in nightmare's fright to press my heart against the burning pyre

Her skirt, the green of new ferns,

trails long around her ankles

and brushes her toes where they sink into the cool mud.

Her grace belies her age, her lilting voice its dialect of sorrow.

the long assault of sound, the stench, the anger's awful roar,

the echoes of the sirens spent against the wounded shore

At first I do not see her scars;

she looks undamaged, fresh in spring.

But then I see her limbs are scorched,

her scraped skin raised, a welt of grief.

a cauldron's spill of boiling blaze, erupting blast of scouring heat -

within a moment spring was gone, the greedy rush of hell complete

These melancholy souvenirs,

her combat medals borne with grace,

no pride, no rancor:

stigmata of anguish.

the vestige of consuming fire, a cicatrix of pain

gouged and hatched across the gentle flesh of her domain

So she survived, but not all did,

to bathe in the consoling rain

her lullaby a soothing salve

the fallen leaves a poultice on her wounds, a balm to sorrow's sting.

the rising gorge, the falling flame tattooed upon the stones

the stab of loss, the rankling scab of memory in our bones

We meet again. She's singing still,

her invitation to the birds, the tender cedar, alders, firs: return.

Her journey incomplete, her noisy waters work unfinished yet:

entrusted with time's burden, she remembers so that we do not forget.