Amy Brakeman Livezey
Fall Count, 24” x 24”
mixed media on panel
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.]