“Centralia, PA” by Aaron Poochigian

Aaron Poochigian



Up a collapsing asphalt road
there is a quaint coal-mining town
that lost its priest and postal code
because brimstone will not stop burning
from casket-deep to two miles down.
When no amount of higher learning
could suffocate the fires of Hell,
the Feds bought all the locals out
but me. Me. Someone needs to tell
the tale of still evolving wrong.
Call me Gasp the Landlocked Trout,
and ragged is my song.



A coughed updraft
through crack and shaft,
exhalations stain
a vanished Doughnut Shop,
a lost Laundromat, absent St. Ignatius.
A purple sign on Main
says Stop
to vapor. There are no police
cruising what had been neighborhoods,
and there is no disturbance of the peace.

Sometimes, out for a Sunday drive,
I’ve seen odd fauna in the sooty woods:

a stiff
stag jutting from a sinkhole, smoke
issuing from his nose and eyes, as if
he had been burnt alive.

And once—no joke,
and I’m no drugged-out tourist—
what were
the noxious dead, I guess,
in indignation swirled
out of the cracked earth screeching “Leave!”

(And the indignant forest
echoed, “Leave!”)

Come close, now, world,
and heed a burr
that is a mess
of phlegm:

may no reprieve,
no trick of time, redeem
the reckless them
who zoned a dump
atop an old coal seam.
And him, the chump
who, by igniting trash,
birthed an inferno, hollowed out the land
and turned our breath to ash—
I curse his hand!

from Rattle #65, Fall 2019


Aaron Poochigian: “In the Spring of 1962, someone burned trash in the Centralia, Pennsylvania, landfill. The fire reached a coal seam and spread to the massive coal deposit underneath the town, which has since been evacuated and demolished. Some few remain. The fire is still burning.” (web)


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