north dakota     i’m worried about you
the companies you keep   all these new friends     north dakota
            beyond the boom, beyond the precious resources
                        do you really think they care what becomes of you

north dakota     you used to be the shy one
enchanted secret land loved by only a few     north dakota

when i traveled away and told people i belonged to you     north dakota
           your name rolled awkwardly from their tongues
                       a mouth full of rocks, the name of a foreign country

north dakota     you were the blushing wallflower
the natural beauty, nearly invisible, always on the periphery
north dakota     the least visited state in the union    

now everyone knows your name     north dakota
the blogs and all the papers are talking about you     even 60 minutes

i’m collecting your clippings     north dakota
the pictures of you from space
            the flares of natural gas in your northern corner 
                       like an exploding supernova
                                  a massive city where no city exists
                                               a giant red blight upon the land

and those puncture wounds     north dakota     take care of yourself
the injection sites     I’ve seen them on the maps
four thousand active wells    one every two miles

all your indicators are up     north dakota
            eighteen billion barrels, some estimates say

more oil than we have water to extract
            more oil than we have atmosphere to burn

north dakota     you could run the table right now;
           you could write your own ticket
  
so, how can i tell you this?    north dakota, your politicians
    are co-opted (or cowards or bought-out or honest and thwarted)
        they’re lowering the tax rate for oil companies
        they’re greasing the wheels that need no greasing
        they’re practically giving the water away

north dakota     dear sleeping beauty    please, wake up
they have opened you up and said, come in     take everything
    
        what will become of your sacred places
        what will become of the prairie dog
        the wolf, the wild horses, the eagle
        the meadowlark, the fox, the elk
        the pronghorn sheep, the rare mountain lion
        the roads, the air, the topsoil
        your people, your people
        what will become of the water

north dakota     who will ever be able to live with you
once this is all over     i’m speaking to you now
as one wildcat girl     to another     be careful     north dakota

Kablooey is the Sound You'll Hear

then plaster falling and the billow of gypsum
after your sister blows a hole in the ceiling
of your brother’s bedroom with the shotgun
he left loaded and resting on his dresser.

It’s Saturday, and the men are in the fields.
You and your sister are cleaning house
with your mother. Maybe your sister hates
cleaning that much, or maybe she’s just

that thorough, but somehow she has lifted
the gun to dust it or dust under it (you are busy
mopping the stairs) and from the top landing
where you stand, you turn toward the sound

to see your sister cradling the smoking shotgun
in her surprised arms, like a beauty queen
clutching a bouquet of long-stemmed roses
after being pronounced the official winner.

Then the smell of burnt gunpowder
reaches you, dirty orange and sulfurous,
like spent fireworks, and through the veil
of smoke you see a hole smoldering

above her head, a halo of perforations
in the ceiling—the drywall blown clean
through insulation to naked joists, that dark
constellation where the buckshot spread.

The look on your sister’s face is pure
shitfaced shock. You’d like to stop and
photograph it for blackmail or future
family stories but now you must focus

on the face of your mother, frozen at the base
of the stairs where she has rushed from
vacuuming or waxing, her frantic eyes
searching your face for some clue

about the extent of the catastrophe.
But it’s like that heavy quicksand dream
where you can’t move or speak,
so your mother scrambles up the steps

on all fours, rushes past you, to the room
where your sister has just now found her voice,
already screaming her story—it just went off!
it just went off! —as if a shotgun left to rest

on safety would rise and fire itself.
All this will be hashed and re-hashed around
the supper table, but what stays with you
all these years later, what you cannot forget,

is that moment when your mother
waited at the bottom of the steps
for a word from you, one word,
and all you could offer her was silence.

Pre-Existing Conditions

"I am my sister’s keeper."
             —Sister Simone Campbell, addressing the Assembly 
             of the Democratic National Convention, Sept. 5, 2012.

Three weeks ago, my sister went on her lunch break
and turned right, for home, rather than left, for the clinic

where she might have been forced to admit to the doctor
that the pain in her left arm was something more than

the chronic ache in her left shoulder from the ladder fall
while cleaning last year. Instead, she went home for soup

which is where my brother found her the next morning
seated at the kitchen counter with her head resting

in her arms, as if she’d only fallen asleep, after her boss
reported that she hadn’t come to work. She rose

each day at 5 A.M to bake muffins and fresh bread
to make the potato salad and rotisserie chickens

that stock the coolers and shelves for the convenience
of others. Too young for Medicare, at 58, she earned

an hourly wage that held her just above the poverty line,
just enough to disqualify her for Medicaid. I see now

how she fell between the cracks. Sure, she tempted fate,
cooked with too many eggs, too much salt, sugar, butter,

and cream. And didn’t we gobble up every rich thing
she put before us? Did she calculate the cost of the new

health care coverage and think, Four hundred dollars
a month. That’s a car payment, that’s forty hours of labor,

a full week of wages. How I wish she’d been forced
to buy it. Did she turn right for home instead of left

for the clinic because she knew a trip to the doctor
would mean a quadruple by-pass, loss of a job,

bankruptcy, and the forced foreclosure of a house
almost paid for. ($700 left on the mortgage at the time

of her death.) So she decided to take the pain
and risk it, believing she was too tough to die.

Well, she wasn’t. To be human is to walk around
with pre-existing conditions—always some muscle

or valve poised to fail, some cell ready to grow wild.
Never before have I wanted to speak to my president

and say, please, hurry up with this. She was my sister,
do you understand? As children, we shared a bathtub,

in those years of once-a-week Saturday night washings.
I can still feel her soapy back against mine. As teenagers,

we shared a bedroom, whispering late into the dark
between our twin beds, until one of us would grow tired

and say, little red school house on the hill, our private code
for “shut up now, so that I can get some sleep.”