TWO POEMS by Joseph Hutchison

The Gulf

The marine biologist sinks
a blue-gloved hand into the Gulf,
then draws it out, stunned silent
by blackness dripping from his fingers.


The columnist and tele-intellectual,
known back in college as Little Georgie,
owl-eyes the moderator and shakes
off the catastrophe. “Accidents happen.”
Capitalism’s dangerous, he means.
Big rewards demand big risks.
Market wisdom. No pain, no gain.


The heron sails low over the grassy marsh,
its legs sleeved up to the knee-joints in crude,
nowhere to land that isn’t poison, nowhere
to stand and snap up a clean fish or two.


At the edge of the marsh, a half dozen
former fishermen crouch to wipe oil
off the long leaves of grass, in silence;
their Company contracts ban them
from talking to the media. Their pain
has nowhere to land, but keeps on
circling above the beloved waters,
spiraling lower as the weeks go by.


Tony Hayward, CEO of BP (two letters
advertised to mean Beyond Petroleum
speaks freely to CNN. “No one,” he says,
“wants this thing over more than I do.
I’d like my life back.” Later, he climbs
into a limo that whispers him away
to a throbbing helicopter, thence
to an airstrip where the Company jet
stands ready to loft him back to London,
30,000 feet over the lightless Atlantic.
In his mind he’s already holding a tumbler
of Ladybank single malt on the rocks.
How many eleven-thousand-dollar-a-day
paychecks can he “earn” before the Board
cuts him loose? Hell—the sooner the better!
How sweet to sway under a golden parachute,
age 54, the rest of a life in front of him….


Robots on the sandy bottom
saw at the pipe to ready it
for a capping attempt,
but the boil of oil and methane
keeps on thundering up
in diarrheal billows.

A sickening sight, yes—
but far from where we live.
How sad for those living there!
Our thoughts and prayers—etcetera…


Decaying fish at the fouled tideline—
more fish than Jesus conjured up
at Bethsaida. A mockery of miracles!
The Gulf’s abundance wiped out
so people like me can drive twenty miles
each way to work, gulp bottled water,
keep leftovers cold for days before
finally tossing them out.

The primordial dead power the pictures
that move me to write, the underwater
cameras that make me an impotent witness.
Even the ink in my pen is implicated,
my better angels beached in slick goop
like pelicans, heads cranked back,
eyes frosted over in the wind.
Even the ink in my pen….


Day 46.

TV ads tout BP’s commitment to clean-up.

News of a stalled rebound: unemployment, 9.7 percent.

Commercials for the new Infiniti: air conditioned to mimic bucolic breezes; the dashboard’s wood hand-rubbed with silver dust.

The “spill” (a PR term meaning “eruption”) stains everything.

Three thousand square miles of the Gulf’s surface sheened or slathered, the Gulf winds infused with stench.

A hundred meters down: the plumes like sprawling Rorschachs, petro-globs tumbling like fallen angels toward the Dry Tortugas, toward the lightless Atlantic.

Ocean floor: the very ground of Being a kind of Pompeii, sooted over by rotting animacules, most so holy they’ve never acquired a name.


Day 47.

You expected,
an epiphany….


The Empire once made Greece its suburb.
Then the Empire made the Wild West its suburb.
Now the Empire’s made the whole globe its suburb.

Poetry: enslaved to Rhetoric,
or worse, Linguistics.

Whatever you expected
clearly will not come to pass.
Only the Gulf dying as we speak.

Only blackness dripping from our pens.


And yet—hypocrite poet!—here you sit,
casting your bitter lines out into the Gulf.


Between the I that writes and the I that grieves,
between the one that writes and others that read,
between the eye that sees and eye that does not see,
between humans and interstellar space: the Gulf.

Against our own greed we side with the Gulf.
Against our own pride, our own numbed spirits,
against the gag of despair in our mouths—
we write. We write, the poet said, not in the past
tense, or the present, or the future. We write,
declared the poet, in the possible

We write for the restoration of the Gulf.
To restore, perhaps, our own trashed nature.
We write for the real; we write against illusion.
We write—to make the possible possible.

* Breyten Breytenbach, in Intimate Stranger


Black-Footed Albatross

Just where the sliding tide shreds
into whitish tatters on the shore,
an albatross stands—draggled
wings cranked wide, the feathers
like charcoaled streaks fanned out
in the late day wind, each foot
a splash of ink on the sand.

We creep close, near enough
to touch—and snap his picture.
A boy prances and flaps his arms,
but the bird doesn’t scare. He stares
out to sea, shadow stretched thin
on the wave-pummeled beach, beak
uplifted like a brujo’s stick finger.

He must be dying, someone says.
But this creature’s never heard
of Coleridge. When the time
feels right, he thrusts himself
two quick steps forward and up,
lifting and veering over the swells
close in, then the far whitecaps.

The next day he’s back, jet-eyed,
imperturbable. Perhaps it’s some
private ritual, or maybe some kind
of annunciation.
There are many
worlds in this world, each alive
with many gods. Mine go by names
your tongue is too thick to pronounce.


Joseph Hutchison is the author of 12 collections of poems, including Sentences and Greatest Hits 1970-2000 (both in 2003), The Rain At Midnight (2000), Bed of Coals (winner of the 1994 Colorado Poetry Award), House of Mirrors (1992), and The Undersides of Leaves (1985), the 1982 Colorado Governor’s Award volume, Shadow-Light. His poems and short stories have appeared in such publications as American Poetry Review, Cerise Press, The Colorado Review, The Denver Quarterly, The Hudson Review, Midwest Quarterly, Mississippi Review, Ohio Review, Poetry, Valparaiso Poetry Review, and in several anthologies, most recently in Stardust and Fate: The Blueroad Reader, Above Us Only Sky (Volume II), and The Master’s Hand: Reflections on RANE. He has work in the forthcoming anthology Poets of the American West. He has also published literary essays, book reviews, and magazine articles. He blogs at

4 thoughts on “TWO POEMS by Joseph Hutchison

  1. I like each poem here, especially “Black-Foooted Albatross”, in which you lay out such empathy with acute observation of the bird, that doesn’t need to be admired or praised by anything but the serious purpose of its own life, its integrity contrasted with the prancing, flapping boy who already seems to have lost an ancient mariner’s connection to it all. Just cannot praise this enough. Thank you for how you say what you see, poet who berates your self.

  2. JOE HUTCHINSON’S POEMS — A re powerful testimony that we poets must continue to use our talent to further awareness of the Gulf tragedy. The comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” in today’s paper, 7-25-2-10, ends with a black block with white letters, “We are all Gulf residents.”

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