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Progress

Marc Beaudin

Amy Brakeman Livezey

Fall Count, 24” x 24” 

mixed media on panel

Progress

Beyond the desperation diners of Butte

headframes dressed in black

ring of pallbearers around the casket

of the Berkeley Pit – waters 900 feet deep

acidic enough to dissolve a boat

 

Ten thousand snow geese, storm-driven

swirling down from the gun-metal sky

 

Before the pit, miners descended a mile deep

to blast and scrape the womb of the earth

June 1917, at full production thanks to the gift of war,

the fire takes two days to suffocate 168 miners

time enough to leave notes for those above: 

 

If anything happens to me you better sell the house and go to California.

We’ll meet again, tell mother and the boys goodbye.

 

Storm-driven, ten thousand snow geese

swirl onto the red water briefly turning it white

 

There’s a young fellow here Clarence Marthy, 

he has a wife and two kiddies, tell her 

we done the best we could but the cards were against us.

 

The water recovers from the feathered respite

as thousands upon thousands of geese burn & die

 

All alive but air getting bad, one small piece 

of candle left, think it is all off.

 

The open pit prevented such old-fashioned disasters

Progress that can be seen from space, the water level

rising ever closer to the groundwater of 30,000 people

and yesterday, a vee of snow geese drawn with a shaky hand

pass over my backyard heading roughly toward Butte

 

 

[Author's Note: Italicized lines were written by shift boss James Moore who saved six lives including that of Clarence Marthey (the correct spelling) but lost his own. From Punke, Michael. Fire and Brimstone: The North Butte Mining Disaster of 1917.]

Marc Beaudin is a poet, theatre artist and bookseller living in Livingston, Montana, dubbed “America’s finest open-air asylum” for multiple reasons. His work has been anthologized in We Take Our Stand (edited by Rick Bass), Poems Across the Big Sky II and Unearthing Paradise: Montana Writers in Defense of Greater Yellowstone. His latest book, Vagabond Song: Neo-Haibun from the Peregrine Journals, was called “a jazzy, freewheeling, rollicking road trip into the beating heart of the Eternal Now” by Montana Quarterly. He believes the Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D is more powerful than all the guns, smokestacks and coal trains in the world.