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Oil Spill on Beach 50.jpg

The Spill


George F. Riess

George F. Riess, a graduate of both Tulane and Louisiana State University, practices law in New Orleans, and teaches trial advocacy at Tulane Law School. His poetry has been published online and in The Pioneer, The Louisiana Review and The Magnolia Quarterly. He won first prize in poetry in Gulf Coast Writer’s Association annual writing contest in May, 2010. George’s poetry has evolved over the years from an exercise in personal therapy, following a tragic loss, to emphasis on craft, to an ease and comfort in expression. He can be reached at

On April 20, 2010 the BP Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing eleven crew members immediately and gushing out of control for many months afterward.


Awake at dawn with black chicory we waded

The piling that tethered the boat and hoisted over

The gunnels. Bobby Magee popped the evinrude,

Puttered us out to drop our nets a dozen

In line in the channel, and in bare light

We barely made the floats on our first run.

He cut the motor 20 feet before

My silent hands underwater on

The cotton cord pulled and set the net.

Then hand over hand I hauled the agony

Of our catch to the surface til three barnacled

Crabs broke, gaping claws snapping

A last gasp of brine. Down the line

A quarter mile and back, two and three crabs

Per net, we filled a hamper and puttered back.


The marsh is soft at dawn, a place of birth,

A fecund lady delicate in an expectant

way, sibling creatures cycling in

And out of her grasses and still water.

Shy and parthenogenic she needs nothing,

Only to be left alone, like heaven, to yield

Her secrets only to the angels with nets and traps

Who have come and gone for generations.


But the Gigolo sells himself by the hour

To politicians trolling for kick-backs,

Johns trading tax breaks, taking turns on their knees.

And he peddles his science as safe.

So the reckoning. Eleven souls in hard hats

Incinerated, instant ash. An ocean

of fish bellied up, as inside out

As the puking well. Pelicans tarred and feathered

Blinking oil black in their eyes.

Another scene in the geocide.*


The lost world. Cacophony of seabirds

In their morning scrum for scraps.

The slap of a tethered skiff in syncopation

With the surf. The strain of oars in the stroke against

The Gulf. The chapel of cypress, branches vested in robes

Of moss, impenetrable in diurnal darkness.

A boiling court bouillon, cayenne bay leaf mustard seed,

Baptizing blue crabs red. And the salt wind,

All the help the seawall needs to stand

Upright a man bowed by the daily dread,

The lost world. Kingdom come and gone.


* self-destruction of the earth

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