Petrolia Progenitus

by James Ellenberger
The unctuous creek scum
clings like caul to their work
boots. The hazmat crew
traverses the Bruin Lagoon
dressed as spacemen,
pails brimming with two
-headed frogs and fluorescent
vegetation. Gossip, as is
its wont, metastasizes.
Penreco’s PR machine
whirrs axioms and offers
overtime. As with the wings
of factory-raised fowl,
the plant clips the worker’s
double helix for the sake
of domestication. “It’s safe,”
reads rote an executive
from another, let’s face it,
planet. Veritas in a three
-piece suit, he doesn’t,
in a gesture of good health
and will, wear a facemask
during the teleconference. 
The hazmat crew shovels 
bituminous earth atop 
our primordial anathema.
They mark the perimeter 
with orange tape, enticing
children to fling toxic mud
as their fathers had 
and so on: the lagoon’s
cartilaginous oaks stand
with three generations’ 
Swiss Army hearts etched
fecklessly into the bark.
More wound than womb, 
the Bruin Lagoon breeds 
gelatinous unlife. It lurches
up the linoleum shore
-line of the doctor’s office
where forty-somethings
gestate exotic cancers in 
chest-cavity atriums. Who
can afford an MRI?
Who wants to practice lying
still? The light’s before us,
then on us, then behind us.
We’ve read the warnings
on the mirrors: when it’s
behind us it appears closer.
Once upon a time, a strip
-mine sheared Petrolia of 
the wan fluff of its immigrant
yearnings. Our great grand
-fathers grew into canaries
with the austere coal 
countenances of crows. 
If our progenitors knew,
fretting currencies in 
company stores, the acid
- addled silent autumns
(save the occasional
siren) that have strangled
their promised land,
who among them would’ve 
brought to each child’s 
drowsing florid face
a pillow, and held it there?
The smokestacks are prolific
but can’t make up their minds,
and so scribble out the sky
hard, in ballpoint, so that the effort
can be seen like a specter
etched into every subsequent ledger.
These are the mute fields of Babel.
These are Moloch’s many cocks.
Look at the great pleasure he takes
in everything we’ve given up.