Tool pusher. Tool fisher. Driller.
He's rattled around the oilfields years,
a story. Evenings, his life like paper
tumbles to rest here, a bar on the edge.
Hank Williams on the jukebox.
Cold beer on tap. The girl
on the stool, neon-lit, nursing
a long neck, listening to his stories:
damn-fool bosses, wife who left him,
son killed on a rig. All his adult life,
he's made machines jump; he's pumped
black blood through silver arteries;
he's ridden the torque and snap
of the world. Now she bends low
to help him guide the glass to his lips.
Some nights he sits here for hours,
just staring at his hands.
The Louisiana Story (1948)
In Robert Flaherty's film, as young Latour
poles his pirogue through the Atchafalaya,
the clatter and clanging of Standard Oil's big derrick
seems mirthful, indigenous to landscape.
It's post-World War Two. The industry put to use
to vaporize cities and fuel task forces
and invasion armies may now just as easily
slip up the local bayou and set up shop
in the vegetal waters near home. And who
in the story seems worried? Smiles abound.
The rig men are infectiously avuncular;
the boy's main consternation's not with the rig
but with his miscreant raccoon, who prowls along
fulfilling its wildness. The nearest oil slick
one might find's still twenty years away.
By that time, Latour's grown, the petroleum
in the swamp long tapped, the new wells far offshore.
For now the sumptuous bayou's summer light
sparkles infectiously. Work and play relax
side by side. Only a wily gator, rumored
to be somewhere in the swamp, lurks nearby
to menace the garden and its benign machine.
The massy red sun mashes
against the Panhandle horizon, a great
oil drop flattening on the world's edge;
and the western sky from end to end
filtered through miles of cheesecloth dust,
spreads the orange flaming like
a scene from the Revelation.
In the field across the road, a half dozen
pumpjacks swivel and putter, as they have
decades, see-sawing in regular pace
as if there were no end below,
no run to see who taps the world's reserves
empty first. Farther
and farther down the sun slips, until
a last red-umber coil seethes out
behind outcropping clouds. Now,
on our porch, we can watch darkness come on
as a car gasps past on the road to Amarillo,
a storm cloud flickers far off in the south,
a cricket creaks in the grass.