Much can be learned from detritus. For Stephen Scott Whitaker, the dump is where children can “study the worst of us.”
Children Love the Dumps
Town children adore the dumps, the spent
and unspent and thrown away, the rusty hulks
dragged to the edge of a cleared field to flake.
Sea of milk white chemical, the calcium inland sea
amid a heap of red earth, like Mars come to plain.
Salt gravel, a fine pelting shift that sounds like rain
when a dumb animal stumbles beyond the lea
to the poison face that once was a lake till algae
The slate company down-county abandoned
their phosphorus, left rusting 100 gallon tanks
to the lake to leak. With the dead earth running into the slough
with every soaking rain, it might as well be Dante’s hell
for the thirsty, for those who turned against water
in this life and the next. Now children come to throw stones
and watch the water turn pale green in summer, and listen
for the intonation of beasts that drag and die
on the mud around them. A squirrel, a wet black bird
whose wing broke left, a rat who drowned
in the poison lake on a dog’s curse. A pale white body
that might be a possum, swollen and rotted away.
Children require a place to study the worst of us
the dead, the wires, the spills, the broken bikes,
the bent rebar veins from some concrete slab,
the broken, the dumped, the left and the forgotten,
in the middle of the green nowhere that used to be a lake.
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