NEA Literature Fellowships

Thomas Reiter

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(2003 - Poetry)

Buffalo Creek Flood, Logan County, West Virginia, 1972

No word came down to the children
playing on the tree swings in the park,
kicking higher and higher and
catching snowflakes in their mouths,
nothing to prepare the way for
the rest of their lives, no word
at all from the mining company
that the creek water used to wash coal
uphollow, now a lake as deep as debt,
was pressing to collapse its slag
inpoundment. What did come down
was taller than anyone's father
and more strict, a wave of mine waste
carrying the contents of a village
many had never visited. Mobile
homes and pickup trucks and cows
and a section of track that no one
would lay a penny on again,
and now children with their swings
and the oaks they were secured to-all
tumbling in the black roller through falling
snow and into the next company
town, where a few had friends or kin,
though no word came down to them.
Nothing like that day in anyone's
memory, and the miners' children
were there.... To those unharmed
in the hills the slag wave sounded
like a homecoming victory.

Thomas Reiter, a recipient of 2003 Poetry Fellowships form the NEA and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, holds the Wayne D. McMurray Endowed Chair in the Humanities at Monmouth University. His most recent poetry collection, Pearly Everlasting, was published in 2000 by Louisiana State University Press. In 2004, LSU will issue his next volume of poetry, Powers and Boundaries.

Author's Statement

The NEA Poetry Fellowship has enabled me to travel to the Caribbean for on-site research - visiting museums and libraries, conducting interviews, and doing what Robert Frost described as walking about it the fields and letting the burrs accumulate - as I continue work on sequences of poems dealing with the history, culture and topography of that region. In January of 2003 I visited Puerto Rico, to St. Kitts in the Windward Islands to gather material about a massacre of Carib Indians by the French and English forces in 1626. So far a dozen lyric and narrative poems have emerged, or begun to emerge, from those experiences. Next year I plan to revisit St. Kitts as well as travel to Antigua, St. Lucia, and Dominica. Also, I will deepen and broaden my resources for writing about pioneers on the Kansas prairie - a major focus of my work recently - by spending time at tallgrass parks and preserves.