Three Poems by Dane Ritter

Overburden #5

Autumn yields catastrophe. Colors explode, painting the mountain
backdrop in crimson, burnt orange, and goldenrod. Entranced by the view,
make sure you don’t flinch when the seam bursts, don’t duck your head.
Remember how the other miners laugh when you jump, coward.

When you smoke at midday, don’t stare too long at the embers, the
bleeding magma through thick black char. Stomp the cigarette out as you
walk to your car in the holler below. Ignore the young boy’s cough as he
plays among the camellia bushes. Ignore it. Like staring at the sun and
begging for blindness. Remember. The sky’s on fire.

Mandy Mountain 

Work and fun don’t mix
unless a payday
and a mountain of coal
are involved. Listen:
you can almost hear
a crew, cheering:

Take your top off, Mandy Mountain.

They’re only human
after all,
and you’re something more,
something conquerable,
so why not level
you down to their eyes.

take your top off, Mandy Mountain.

Boys will be
boys, and having
a good time
was all explosions--
and hootin’
and hollerin’

take your top off, Mandy Mountain

feels natural,
like apple pie a la mode.
You could just lick the sticky
ice cream off your fingers.
And that feeling of hard
work leading to pleasure
is deeply

Poor Mandy.
You can’t help how you’re born
or made, and her seam
happens to be fuller
than other mountains
her age. The boys never notice
her luscious locks
of firs and maples
or the blossoming
holly bushes.
They’re just ready to

take your top off, Mandy Mountain.

And as they plug her
full of explosives,
she wonders:
are they only human, 
after all?

Are they men
masquerading as God,
trading stewardship
for a mountain
of gold and greed.

When was the last time
they stood, bare toes
buried in muddy banks?
When did they last break
twigs beneath
bruised knees?

Blessed be she
who bore ye.

And bless these monsters
for they know exactly
what they do and care
not that they let
the serpent back into Eden.

Moses on the Mount

 “...and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up into Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.” -  Exodus 34:4 KJ

After 40 days and 41 nights
working the graveyard shift,

a faithful Moses exited the ravaged
mountainside, exploding

forth like Blackjewel’s latest
coal seam. He could kiss and praise

the winding trail of Kingdom Come
Parkway, but instead left his Goodyear

tires to embrace the blacktop. Thou
shalt not have other gods before 

Me. After dinner -- or was it break-
fast? How long since his last sit- 

down supper? -- Moses walked 
the perimeter of his cliffside 

home, plucking discarded Mountain 
Dew cans from brush and blade alike.

Thou shalt honor thy mother. Earth
was dying, he would not deny

Her (thou shalt not lie). His live-
lihood was desecrating Her beauty,

but papa enforced in him
the loving touch of the mine--

generations had reaped benefits
sown by coal. Papa, his papa,

& his papa had cut their teeth
in the depths, 5,945 feet high,

& he was taught Thou
shalt honor thy father, too.

He worked hard in the baking
sun to replace the trees

he extinguishes for firewood,
Thou shalt not kill, thou

shalt not steal. Retiring inside,
all he wanted was to drown

the thirst in his soul, in his mouth,
but found instead the orange, putrid

sight of acid drainage trickling from
the faucet. Moses laughed, remembering

the rules of the mountain: Thou
shalt not want.

Dane Ritter is an environmentalist and poet, focused on preserving nature through the written word. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Kentucky, where his research on Eastern Kentucky and the Appalachian region received the William Hugh Jansen Graduate Award and the James S. Brown Graduate Award. His poetry, featured in publications such as The Cortland Review, Flare Journal, and Flora Fiction, as well as Anthology of Appalachian Writers Vol. XII (2020), explores the dangerous effects of mountaintop removal in Appalachia. He currently teaches freshman English and lives in Lexington, Kentucky with his golden retriever, Forrest. He's on Twitter @DaneRitter.