“Appalachian Freshwater Pearls” by Owen P. Cramer

“Appalachian Freshwater Pearls”

By Owen P. Cramer

I took your freshwater pearls, harvesting them
          from an archeological site you call “home.”
          I left nothing behind to give you pride
          in where you live
                 because pride is a sin.

I dug up Serpent Mound
          rebuilding it in my image,
          while hauling off everything but a few shards
                 of now twice discarded pottery.

I store your treasures in the basements
          of my Museums and Universities.
          They have no value to me,
          but you can’t have them back.
                 You might learn that history repeats itself.

I took all the bones from Big Bone Lick.
          They’re lost now, spread throughout an unappreciative world.
                 I didn’t leave enough fragments
                 for a decent educational display

I took almost every tree in Kentucky.
          I wanted the lumber
          more than you needed the woods.
                 I didn’t leave a single old-growth forest
                 so you will never see what is gone forever.

But I didn’t only take;
          I also gave.

I gave eternal life to the near-dead towns of your fathers.
          Under the living waters of full-immersion baptism,
          they are reborn
                 for my recreation and amusement.

To take your coal, I gave you railroads.
          I needed your coal
          to make my steel, power and money,
                 none of which I shared with you.

To take your people, I gave you highways.
          I needed your people
          for my factories, mills and assembly lines.
          I’m done with them now.
          Raul and Ping work cheaper
                 than Jethro and Ellie May.

I will give nothing for your mountains.
          You don’t respect them.
          You have no sense of the history
                 or the culture of your land.

Even your own people
          have abandoned those mountains.
                 Shame on you for being who you are.

~ from “Quarried: Three Decades of Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel” (Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative/Dos Madres Press, 2015)

Owen P. Cramer is not a poet or an Appalachian. He is, however, married to Pauletta Hansel who is both. This was the first poem he has written since grammar school. It was written while attending a Southern Appalachian Writers Coop Weekend Retreat with his wife. This poem is in response to hearing Dick Hague read about visiting Harvard’s Peabody Museum where nothing they took from his community was on display.

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