Three Poems by Jessica Cory

Paper Mill Pantoum

The Mead’s red and white striped stack 

puffs out sulfur-smelling smoke and steam

that ate clearcoat off cars not too far back,

but the EPA said sure it’s safe to breathe.

These puffs of sulfur-smelling smoke and steam

permeate the atmospheric zones,

but the EPA said sure they’re safe to breathe,

so most agencies leave the Mead alone. 

Permeating atmospheric zones,

the smoke and steam will lead to climate change,

but most agencies leave the Mead alone

since they pay their workers a high-dollar wage.

Yes, the smoke and steam will lead to climate change

Yes, the Scioto may soon overtake its banks

Yet no protection is a high-dollar wage

when your living room becomes a sudden lake. 

When the Scioto River overtakes its banks

and we are unable to breathe the air, 

when our living rooms morph into sudden lakes,

we’ll realize that refuge is nowhere. 

When we are unable to breathe the air

that ate clearcoat off cars not too far back,

we’ll realize that refuge is nowhere,

no beacon in that red and white striped stack. 


Atlantic Coast in the Endtimes

The sea is ill-

equipped for man’s survival.

Shelter cannot be constructed by falling

beach umbrellas, foraged

berries, carrion & oyster 

mushrooms to replace bluefish 

or swordfish for the fortunate starved. 

Maybe some seaweed like they ate in Japan, 

before it was consumed. For warmth, only

driftwood left for fire & a tattered towel 

to block whisked sand & fallout.

At times, it is easy to forget

the sea cannot even give water

pure enough to drink. In all its splendor

it cannot provide what a shallow creek contains. 

In all its erasure, it forgets

to give life in return.


13 Miles South of Louisa, KY

bracing a power line, sits 
an electric spool. Emblazoned 
in ‘80s jazzercise orange, 
a notice: This is fiber—not copper. 

A warning to any would-be thieves
slinging precious metal for change
to pay for daycare or light bills.

The spool is property 
of the electric company,
but aren’t we all? 

The fossil fuel industry,
a dealer with scarred mountains
instead of arms. Dirty 
creeks instead of needles. 

Yet the blame is laid 
on people labeled thieves
just so coal can keep their lights on. 

Jessica Cory teaches at Western Carolina University and is a PhD candidate specializing in Native American, African American, and environmental literature at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. She is the editor of Mountains Piled upon Mountains: Appalachian Nature Writing in the Anthropocene (WVU Press, 2019) and the co-editor (with Laura Wright) of Appalachian Ecocriticism and the Paradox of Place (UGA Press, forthcoming 2023). Her creative and scholarly writings have been published in the North Carolina Literary Review, North Dakota Quarterly, Northern Appalachia Review, and other fine publications. Originally from southeastern Ohio, she currently lives in Sylva, North Carolina.