TWO POEMS by Melissa Tuckey


“These people are in prison and there’s poison loose.”
–Rev. Willie T. Snead, Sr., Mossville, Louisiana

It gets in your clothes it gets
in the way you talk

That’s not an ambulance
that’s the sun going down
in your rear view mirror

Gambling boats ghost fishing
on Lake Charles

And the thunder late at night
railroad cars full of poison
bumping into one another

It gets in your clothes it gets
in the way you talk

Sugar is refined here for sweet tea
flour bleached white
Men selling melons the size of heads

Her house held the cancer
like fish in a locked box

First published in Cincinnati Poetry Review. Republished Beltway Poetry Journal and Fire and Ink: An Anthology of Social Action Writing.



Quiet as a dream of windows
the sun burns through a cloudless sky—barreling blues, the sea
in translucent green and mud-yellow shallows

There is no underwater plume the size of Manhattan
headed for coral reef in Florida
There is only something
irregular and indeterminate yet to be measured by instruments-

Do not film the man counting dead animals

My nephew last November rode silently twelve hours in the back of a minivan
to visit the ocean. A different ocean from the one he remembered
this one winter-gray in hat and gloves . No matter. Within minutes he was in the water
digging with his shovel. His fingers clambake red.

He digs and digs, shoes wet, will-bent to the idea of ocean, his own castle

Pelicans slick with goo infirm birds their brains addled by fumes

Blue fin tuna, west indian manatee, bottlenose dolphin and sperm whale,
royal tern, sandpiper, snowy plover, reddish egret, loggerhead and kemp ridley turtles,
diamondback terrapin, oil swaddles a nursery

I walk the shallows at low tide
marvel at what is found there
estuarine, alluvial, plain

I am trying to remember a night’s sleep that did not feel like drowning



I worked as an activist and had the opportunity years ago to attend a “toxic tour” of Louisiana. I was riding a bus with activists and EPA officials.  On this tour I saw what can only be described as “ecocide,” the poisoning of communities, mostly low income, mostly African American.  Much of the devastation was brought on by oil refineries and by other toxic industries who moved in to take advantage of the lack of regulation.  Along the road we passed a poster board sign hung to a tree, listing the names of people in the neighborhood who had died of cancer.  We saw neighborhoods along the fenceline of oil refineries where houses had been literally incinerated by refinery explosions. In Diamond, Louisiana, citizens fought ten years for relocation and eventually won.  Others are still fighting.  What is happening to gulf waters is connected to what is happening to people in these communities.  When you grieve the water and the birds and marine life, grieve also the people who have been chocking on oil for decades.  Grieve and demand justice.  Some great local organizations to support are Louisiana Bucket Brigade <> and Louisiana Environmental Action Network <>.


Melissa Tuckey is author of Rope as Witness (chapbook: Puddinghouse Press).  Her poems have been published in Beloit Poetry Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Poetry International, Verse Daily and elsewhere.  She’s recently completed a residency at Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Ma.  She’s a co-founder of Split This Rock, an organization dedicated to poetry of provocation and witness.

2 thoughts on “TWO POEMS by Melissa Tuckey

  1. “I am trying to remember a night’s sleep that did not feel like drowning.” Durand has written a visceral
    poem of ocean-deep understanding. A poem along with her statement that tells of the inter-connectedness
    of Nature and the people inhabiting this earth. Yes, a “spill as quiet as dreams”, dreams eeking out
    a dream life that becomes a reality of sin committed against that which is intended to sustain us.

  2. I talk often about wanting to be a poet who bears witness and at times I think I even try. But these, and this poet, Melissa Tuckey…she is writing truth and bearing witness in so large a fashion, I am in awe.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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