Work
i come from a place that
the first things strangers
said when they got off the
plane was what is that smell
what they meant was the
scent of petrochemicals and
depending on the wind the
paper mill and what they meant
was dear god make it stop
and some of them in kindness
and disbelief told us how the air
would kill us told us as if we did
not know as if we could not see
cancer when it came and could
not weigh the hunger of children
against the black smoke spewing
toward the sun the black water
spewing toward the ocean
and come to conclusions we
were or were not proud of
we looked at them those well
meaning people coming from
a place of no such decisions
and we sometimes spat a long
symbolic streak of skoal and we
not i of course but all the same we
said that’s the smell of money
and they looked in horror and
astonished condescension and
we never bothered to explain
we knew it was not in fact the
smell of our money because
that money they could not bear
the smell of went north and to
the cities and made nice places
to live for people who stepped
astonished off the planes and
stepped right back on as fast
as they could manage

my neighbor stopped to talk
the neighbor from chicago
you can see the way she shields
her eyes from us sometimes
and does not make a single
joke about the slackjawed
yokels it sticks out and we
appreciate her manners
in a way she stopped
yesterday on the way to her
mailbox this well dressed
lady from chicago who works
if we call it that in a law office
who sometimes argues in
court and sometimes does
things we do not understand
she said in the very tone of
those airplane passengers in
the very language of my
childhood how could they
and she meant west virginia
the whole state which at some
point decided that feeding people
today was more important than
clean water today or tomorrow
and i do not have even a small
symbolic stream of skoal and
i am far from that angry girl and
the airplane people but still
i could not help the way my
mouth opened all on its own
told her incomprehensibly in
a cloud of angry history
that is the smell of money

Kara Coryell