The world around us isn't always pretty. But the way words can describe even the most awful situations and places can be pretty powerful. Even beautiful, sometimes.
On a recent Thursday night a good friend and I went for a drive around my town. We talked about hopes and fears, love and loss, present and future.
I met this friend while enrolled in an environmental writing and media class in college. Like me, she's both concerned about the environment and a creative soul.
Naturally the both of us are drawn to scenes of natural beauty: shimmering seas, soaring birds, rich forests. But we also have a fascination for the grotesque--the imperfect parts of nature: rippling rainbows of oil in mud puddles, plumes of plastic swirling in the oceans...and of course, the thick, soot-laden smoke pouring out of power plants.
It just so happens that the both of us live within a stone's throw of a power plant. For me, it's the Northport Power Station, for her it's the Shoreham Power Station.
That night, we discussed the similarities and differences between our hometown power plants:
The hulking Northport plant runs on compressed natural gas that's piped in, like it is to most homes in the area, and also liquid oil. Shoreham's smaller plant, adjacent to the never-opened Shoreham nuclear power plant, runs on liquid natural gas, which is trucked in on tankers.
Both are located on Long Island's North Shore, butted up against the Sound. In other words, if there were to be a major leak or explosion (caused by gas or oil or the other chemicals used in operating a power plant), a multitude of things that live in and near the Sound--including people--would be harmed.
Both plants are owned and operated by National Grid. Both are surrounded by tall, angry chain-link and barbed-wire fences.
Additionally, the Northport power station creates steam. To cool the mechanisms of the Northport plant, huge quantities of water are pulled from the Sound, sucking up fish eggs, insect larvae, fish and other marine wildlife, which get trapped in filter screens. During the cooling process, this saltwater heats up. Then, still hot, it's returned to the Sound, where it damages marine ecosystems and harms wildlife....
You can read more about Long Island's power plants--and the environmental harm they cause--in this environmental analysis.
That night my friend drove her Prius slowly, carefully through the dark roads that wind around the Northport plant's four red-and-white striped towers. Through clouds of steam, the towers' flashing red lights looked like alien eyes blinking at us from the liquid black sky, harsh and ominous.
She parked and I hopped out of her car into the cold, late-winter night. I peered at the plant through the fence. Clinging onto the chain-linked armor that protects the plant from too much outside observation, I pulled myself up above some brush, trying to get a better view--a better idea--of what was going on there. But the plant--set deep into the middle of the property, way by the water, was too far away to see clearly.
I returned to my friend's car, and we continued our nighttime adventure around the power plant. We discussed our hypotheses about why there might be so much secrecy and protection surrounding places like these: Places of pollution. Places that create energy and other industrial products. Places like Flint and places like Hoosick Falls. Places like her town, and places like mine.
So late that night, after my friend dropped me off at home, I wrote down what I saw so that maybe later, maybe one day, I will understand:
into polluted skies.
Oh how darkness shrouds
dirty secrets and lies.
Miles of fencing
Cuts through this seaside village
People have no say.
surrounded by water
there is no way out.
- Do you have a power plant in your town?
- Does your town have a toxic legacy?
- If you could live anywhere, where would you choose?
Also: I invite you to send me your poems of pollution. Shoot me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org