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Tuesday, August 02, 2022


by Neil Shepard

by John Deering | September 24, 2021

You slept badly last night—
stuck in a Houston oil slick, coughing coal dust
from your West Virginia mines, lapping up
recycled water from fracked shale be-
cause it was the last water on earth –
and woke up speed-dialing the senator
from New York to nail down a deal
on climate change and health care.
Never tell me dreams and symbols
have no power! They’re the right kind
of power, drilled into your rock-bed
politics, reorienting your moral
compass, mesmerizing, magnetizing,
leading you by the nose like a horse to water,
which is how you find yourself at sun-up
ambling down your backyard lawn to Paw
Paw Creek, where you bend to drink,
and rising, look over a green ridgeline
to see your smokestacks black
with coal-ash, cadmium, mercury, arsenic, and
last night’s dream suddenly flashes
in your brain like a stroke and flushes
your gut with acid and forces
your resolve—to call that god-damn
senator from New York before the morning’s gone.

Neil Shepard is an award-winning poet who has published eight books of poetry, most recently, How It Is: Selected Poems (Salmon Poetry, 2018). He has published essays, book reviews, interviews, and poems in numerous literary magazines, among them, AWP Chronicle, Boulevard, Harvard Review, New England Review, Paris Review, Ploughshares, Shenandoah, Southern Review, and TriQuarterly. He founded and directed for eight years the writing program at the Vermont Studio Center, and he edited for a quarter-century the literary magazine Green Mountains Review. Shepard has been a writing fellow at the MacDowell Colony, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and Tyrone Guthrie Centre in Ireland. Outside the literary realm, he is a founding member of the poetry and jazz ensemble, PoJazz.