TWO POEMS by Timothy Pilgrim

Slick  — to Exxon then and BP now


Number of the 23 species seriously depleted by the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that have recovered — 1
— Harpers Index, September 1997

“The current worst-case estimate of what’s spewing into the Gulf (of Mexico by BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil well) is 2.5 million gallons a day.”
— Associated Press, June 24, 2010

You brought new meaning to robber baron,
taught us to know
black snow on Tundra,
scrape frozen sod primed with promises

even Arctic fox knew to be lies.
Your lawyers slapping backs in bars,
buying free drinks — all these brought sadness

even dutiful glaciers could not scrub away.
We tromped black sand, piled oily birds,
seals, cheek-high, set them ablaze,
watched the pyre outshine frosty dusk.

Our breath froze white
on the darkened beach. That night
we burned ice to stay warm.


“This was a tragic and terrible event, and one for which the company has paid dearly. …”
— Walter Dellinger arguing for Exxon before the U.S. Supreme Court, February 2008.

The rocky shore lay bare,
helicopters, skimmers,
hoses, booms, all gone,
seabird washers, beach workers,

dead sea otters, harbor seals,
even the Valdez,  gone too.
No more hot salt spray

spreading the goo around.
A lone mallard struggled in,
staggered up the beach,
tried to preen, gave up,

too many green feathers matted down.
He turned, wobbled to the Sound,
where he drowned.


“The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday gutted punitive damages awarded to victims of the Exxon Valdez spill … slashing the award from $2.5 billion to $500 million.”
— The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, June, 26, 2008

“BP CEO Tony Hayward … took a break from his oil spill duties in the Gulf of Mexico to attend a yacht race … in the English Channel.”
— Politics Daily, June 1, 2010

We buried another fisher today,
dropped a handful of greasy sod,
a few black rocks in the grave —
at dusk kindled his boat,

its hold empty 21 years until BP killed the Gulf.
We set our tribute adrift,
watched the whole bay catch fire,

flames race to shore, climb sand,
burn a row of skiffs.
No terns turned high,
no eagles  swooped low. Out on the Sound

your tanker droned.
In its wake, nine sleek crows
escorted another bloated walrus home.


Eternal life

Scientists, lacking wife, family, life,
have found molecules
making up our bodies
to be 4 billion years old.

The good news from this:
We have eternal life.
The bad news is we’ve been
drift nets, oil spills, coffin lids.


Timothy Pilgrim, a journalism professor at Western Washington University and Pacific Northwest poet with a strong pro-environment stance, lives in Bellingham, Washington, and has published over 80 poems, mostly in literary journals, such as Words-Myth, The Curious Record, Jeopardy, and Tipton Poetry Journal and anthologies of poetry, such as “Idaho’s poets: A Centennial Anthology” (University of Idaho Press) and “Weathered Pages: The Poetry Pole” (Blue Begonia Press). Pilgrim teaches about mass media and their link to consumerism and the destruction of the environment. His poems are available at at Western Washington University, which is home to Huxley College of the Environment, the first environment-oriented college in the nation.

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