To the Mothers at Buffalo Creek by Catie Marie Martin

On February 26, 1972, Pittston Coal Company’s coal slurry impoundment dam broke after several days of steady rain, unleashing approximately 132,000,000 gallons of black waste water. With a crest of 30 feet, the water flooded the homes of over 4,000 people and killed 125 members of the surrounding West Virginia mining community.

What does it feel like when it rains? Do you clench
your teeth, drown out the pitter-patter with the screech
of the teakettle? What does it feel like to catch your face
in a sidewalk puddle, as the gasoline swirls about your reflection
and turns your cheeks to a kaleidoscope? Are you afraid
it will swallow you up?

Surely the day will come when you no longer shy
from grocery carts, from rotisserie chicken,
from bicycles. Surely knotted necklaces will cease
to remind you of fallopian tubes. Surely tulips,
bending from their jars, will cease to remind you of the
gravitational tug of your knees to the ground.

I know the measures you have taken.
I know you cleaned your ears with sponges
after the flood pulled down your walls
like pants.

I know Russian dolls in perfect rows mock you,
with their hollow chests that are so easily filled
by one another.

So, I have to ask:
If your day will come, you,
whose bones and branches all at once
broke in two, whose backyard oak trees
turned to sand as the earth devolved and crunched
against itself, as the river browbeat your home to rubber –

Then surely I, who tapers away from windows like a curtain,
I, to whom the entire world smells like a Carolina motel
and sounds like a mistuned clarinet –
Surely I will one day dry like mildew
and unfold like cardboard. Surely I will unfurl
like ribbon and settle like stone.


Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Catie Marie Martin is currently a student at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, New York. She received her BA in English from Mississippi State University, where she worked as the poetry editor for the school’s literary magazine,The Streetcar, as well as the managing editor for the student newspaper, The Reflector. Catie Marie’s poetry has previously been published in The Streetcar and in the University of Illinois’s Ninth Letter.

2 thoughts on “To the Mothers at Buffalo Creek by Catie Marie Martin

  1. Very powerful; in bringing attention so artfully to such a travesty; I could feel the emotion as it swelled into my own feelings and echoes, echoes that will not easily fade.

    I am glad you wrote this.


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