“Pipeline Surveyors” by Sean Kelbley

Sean Kelbley


I resent the men who’ve come 
to mark our land. On breaks they sit 

inside their giant pickup trucks, 
engines running so their leather seats 

stay hot. Wolf down their Subway 
double-meats like puppies vying 

to grow biggest fastest. Not yet fully 
men: mid-20s, college logos 

on their too-clean baseball caps, 
Gore-Tex shells un-ripped, 

skin paler on the narrow bands 
where rings should be. Oklahoma, 

Mississippi, Louisiana—not a single
local license plate, and someone here 

could use the work. I dislike 

their easiness. Their casual bro-nods 
when we pass each other on the road, 

the way they play the open courts 
at City Rec—not bad enough to pity, 

not good enough to outright hate. 
What kind of guys pound ribboned 

stakes, paint arrows red and blue 
across a property to show the butchers

where to cut, then just move on? 
I’ve watched them take the measure 

of our waitresses at Applebee’s. 
It’s unforgivable, how much 

they love their jobs.

from Rattle #72, Summer 2021
Tribute to Appalachian Poets


Sean Kelbley: “I live and work in Appalachian southeastern Ohio, not half an hour from where I was born. I used to feel that staying in this place I know too well (and one that knows me too well, back) was limiting. Then I grew up. Fell in love and married a man with roots so deep, they couldn’t be transplanted. I live here now by choice, in a house we built together on his family’s land. I wish we had better access to the internet, and that we traveled more, but I am grateful for a life and place that’s taught me how to really listen to, retell, and make up stories. Many hurtful and inaccurate Appalachian stereotypes persist. I hope this tribute will dispel them. But it’s true how much we value, and depend upon, the oral tradition. The poems I’ve chosen to submit arise from voices I have heard—in story, conversation, song. I want to thank the family and friends, the colleagues and students, and the almost-strangers who have shared their truths. They’re just like anyone’s from anywhere, except not quite.”

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