Tree House

Two poems by Steve Hallett

But these ash mountains, this valley, / once green, / this town where the coal is cleaned, / made black.

Tree House

I freed the old linden tree
from his shackles today—
sloughed the boards
from his outstretched limbs.
Grown, left,
or soon leaving,
they no longer climb
up his knotty trunk
or out onto his broad shoulders.
Sap wept
as I drew out the carriage bolts.
The pain of excision?
A sudden gush of relief, perhaps,
that through all those games
on perilous heights,
none of them fell.
A single defiant bolt
entombed in his wood.



Sleepy pastoral Aberpennar, nestled
in a sinuous, glacier-scooped Welsh valley
blessed with natural beauty, cursed
with underground wealth.
The collieries open,
new jobs, new arrivals, and new name:
Mountain Ash. A new town for a new Britain.

Deep Duffryn is sunk, men are shoved
into the ground, to the seam, a quarter mile below,
to hack out the black gold
from the black tunnels
with black faces
until the coal is gone and the collieries close
on a broken town
where only Black Lung remains

until a phurnacite plant spawns jobs
and a toxic spew of sulfur, mercury,
wrapped in a pall of dust
making clean coal for a cleaner Britain.
But these ash mountains, this valley,
once green,
this town where the coal is cleaned,
made black.

My great-grandfather was drawn to Aberpennar to find a job in the mines.
My grandfather worked his life down Deep Duffryn to die of Black Lung.
My father, lover of nature, escaped in the night
to return, years later,
botany degree in hand,
to a wasteland.

So a man was drawn to the coal
that would take the life of his son—
that would take the passion of his grandson—

what things three generations can see.
The rise and fall                                    of an empire,
the growth and death                           of a town,
the promise, power, and horror         of progress.


Steve Hallett is British-Australian-American poet and professor of horticulture at Purdue University, Indiana, where he studies and teaches ecology, international development, and sustainable agriculture. He directs the university’s sustainable food and farming systems program and its student farm. Steve is the author of over fifty research articles and book chapters, and the author of two books: Life without Oil (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY; 2011) and The Efficiency Trap (Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY: 2013). Poetry is a new medium for Steve, through which he continues to explore themes of social and environmental justice, and mankind’s relationship to the natural world. His poetry has been published in Bitter Oleander, Blueline, New Limestone Review, Plainsongs, Roanoke Review, and Stillwater Review.