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C.N.P Poetry 

  • Writer's pictureCathexis Northwest Press

Nitro Show

By: Andy Kerstetter

On a foggy May morning, the only thing that holds

our fourth-grade focus on this field trip to the first

oil well is the promise

of explosions—tectonic grumbling

of acne, crooked glasses and clouded

desires deflect history away

from our minds, the lives and loves

of those carriage-riding oil boomers coming

second to the flame when they shoot the shaken

nitroglycerin, displaying pyrotechnic

methods of unclogging muddy shafts.

On pressing the detonator, we applaud

the red rose blooming hot against

the cotton sky, uncaring or unaware

such splendor spelled failure

for the roughnecks of yore—fires of passion

cooling in the ether, dark seed of livelihood

clenched in stony folds, untapped.

Someday we'd see the intended effect

of all that blasting: sweet swells of tar

shooting up the surface, baptism of potential energy

burning along the rusting years, unstable freight

sparking into the void.


Living and working in Idaho's Rocky Mountains, Andy Kerstetter was born and raised in rural Pennsylvania, in whose forests much of his poetry is rooted. He earned a degree in writing in 2010 and has worked as a journalist for newspapers and magazines. His poetry has appeared in Gravitas and Sixfold, and his debut poetry collection, "The Inferno Lessons," is forthcoming from Kattywompus Press.

""Drake's Well, near Titusville in western Pennsylvania, is the site of the first commercial oil well and ensuing oil boom in the United States. The state park there is a regular field trip site for regional students (like me, growing up in nearby Corry in the 90s), most of whom are captivated by the park's educational "nitro show" reenactments, which display the dangers of 19th-century oil workers working with nitroglycerin to try to jump-start the wells--and always end with an explosion when hapless workers mishandle the explosive chemical"


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