OIL SPILL by Tara Betts

Oil Spill

When the knife enters and rotates,
hemorrhage spumes into currents.
Black blood tinged red laps pulse
into blue flushed with viscous night
clouds water. Fish bellies, obscured
white, still gills, stiff as clotted feathers
weighed down. No touch stems the flow.
Teacup ships float in a flood. The knife
turns deeper when a bell jar fails to pump
a gulf back to safety. No eyes soak up miles
gone, cloaked in endless black scalloped
into oily deserts abandoned by fishermen,
tourists. No one ventures to dead beaches.

While company town founders and barons
bedeck organic vegetables with bone china
and folded hand-woven cotton napkins, oil,
in their dreams, raises profit margin buoys
and glazes salads with extra virgin olive. Slick
does not stain everyone’s water glass, just ones
that have to twist the tap.

–Tara Betts



If you’ve seen documentaries like “Flow: For Love of Water”, or even Mos Def’s song “New World Water,” then you already know that the planet’s water supply is in danger. We have a limited supply tainted by pollutants. Those pollutants travel and circulate through all the other water bodies. People have thought for years that there was an island of plastic growing larger every day in the Northern Gyre of the Pacific Ocean. Actually, it breaks down into tiny particles of basic polymers that wildlife eat and absorb. Such particles are difficult to filter out of the water. Imagine what is not visible to the human eye and absorbed by the body, and how plastic from bottle caps, plastic bags, toothbrushes travels for miles to break down in the sea, tangle into masses that trap and kill animals, and become toxic bits of Bisphenol A, then consider how rapidly a constant gush of oil might travel. The impetus for this poem is the diminished access to water, which is already becoming privatized in some parts of the world. What would happen if we all had to pay exorbitant prices for water, the one resource all living creatures need, and most of the world’s inhabitants are not wealthy?


Tara Betts is the author of Arc and Hue (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2009). Her work appears in a variety of anthologies and other publications, including Black Nature Poetry: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, Simply Haiku, Essence, and Callaloo. Tara is one of the poetry editors for The November 3rd Club, an online journal of political writing. She teaches creative writing and poetry at Rutgers University, as well as community-based workshops.

2 thoughts on “OIL SPILL by Tara Betts

  1. Topical poetry is so difficult to create without sounding didactic. Your touch is just right–laser sharp but not heavy handed.

    I love the contrast of those w/glazed salads & those who drink tap water from oil-stained glasses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s