Conjunctions:73 Earth Elegies

Disputed Site Sestinas

You would not go there. Mountainous
ships gather in at the beach
of Alang. Each will feed 100 mouths
broken down into elements
by the young. Sent out between the places
we have scoured so now our harbors push it past

five countries, rusting, heaving a passage
along the sky––the man-made mountain
rubs against eternity. The hull displaces
water as the tanker rides in, beaches
at last in the shipyard: lot flooding when dark elemental
water runs over the workers’ legs into the small mouths

of the mud and scattered metal, then flows out the mouth
of the harbor, settling. After its final passage
past the cape this ship becomes scrap elements.
No more a merchant vessel. The captain
drops anchor, cuts power, steps down to the beach
and goes. The buyer’s offshore money displaces

these now: multiple million dollars, a loan, and workers displaced
from poorer regions. Who cover their mouths
with cloth while one journalist climbs up from the beach
in blue body suit and full gas mask. He passes
into the bridge and points out the small mountains,
whitish piles of asbestos, each shred’s harm an elemental

certainty. And iron. All around, the element’s
ore mined from far grounds, forged into steel, displaced
in welded sheets and sent floating in the tumbling mountain
of tanker made steady with its great cavities of cargo. Tank mouths
sealed with 10 miles of pipe and valves––the tons of oil that pass
sustaining nations, their corporate bodies held in the reach

of these cold quiet arms. But here where toxins leach
through oily mud workers run in this element
each day the tooled heat pours while summer passes
and hull sections crash––pulled apart in this place
where some still tower, announcing themselves like oaths
to bring distance up close, undissolved. Mountains

of want and labor. As the master gas cutter braces in this place
a country where the live gas line opens its small mouth
now his torch may cross igniting a mountain.



Spring changes what it’s made of, the air
loosening, tree fibers warming while new
light frequencies press brimming over the root zones
damaged in winter. The trunk holds but its axis
tilts tipping a canopy that dandles leaves
to inhale over troughs of rich chemical

air. Inside each leaf, flights of swirling-in chemical
carbon dioxide––fast and thin. Wisping into the airy
underside stomata cells of these leaves
that entertain, allow access to interiors newly
awakened when earth tilted its old axis
curtailing the night. Then within this temperate zone

the phytochrome––sensitive to far-red zones
of the visual spectrum––presses chemical
fingers into the small branches, triggers a praxis
of bud building that spins sugars shaken out of the air
and folds them into tiny bud-newspapers
wound up, bound, bundled, soon to become leaves.

Flooded with blossoms––is this how nature leaves
us? The tree all in heat, blustering into the warm zones
of the airspace, demonstrating a readiness in its sinews
for reproduction it fizzes up pink like some chemical
toxin. These limbs are as delicate as ever, debonair
though laden, arraying their plunder out from that axis

the trunk whose seed fell down here like a taxi
passenger deposited by accident. The leaves
regrow. They don’t know how to despair
as now the branches with their flailing arms emblazon
the sky, claiming the air where new chemical
compounds waft over a property whose contract renews

while its prospects decay. I am newly
infused with boundaries this spring, watching the tree’s axis
slant, crossing the land, spreading its earthy alchemical
vision. A villain says, nobody leaves
until I say so, but this time his interzone
of ownership extends into but one cross section of airspace.

The tree is dying. I know. Still pressing new buds up
from its axis, its leaves catch at vitreous air.
The stoma tugs at clear space. The chemical sky divides.


Disputed Site
(Agbogbloshie E-Waste Center)

Listen. “It is the world’s largest e-waste dump site.”
Plastic encloses what men and kids patiently
dig for, scraping and burning what’s brought
to this stretch in the center of Accra. Wiry
smoke rises from the mounds of the dump––
churns up and turns into soot clouds that pose

available for photographers to expose
this trash as our own. How best to see the sight
we’re told is mostly our discarded monitors, the dump’s
legal basis and central element, patented
cube seats and material drifting, inner wires
still unstripped. From containers brought

out of Europe, Australia, the US, often not bought
but gifted––“secondhand”––a practice now exposed
by journalists who tell us that our old wires
can be found here. But some say they’re local. The site
shifts, sifts, while photos make their own patently
slanted stories. And the city’s ordinary dump site

surrounds it all, showing us the wasteland dump-
scape we’ve imagined––as produce is brought
at dawn into the market next door. Where patient
sellers mind their stalls, abundance exposed
to air and ground and the long seep of this site
at the center of the city. As men gather wires

into bundles they guard all day then light into fires
that sear through the haze of the dump:
blossoms beckoning to those still rapt at the sight
of combustion and burn. Hydrogen chloride. Bought
for free like so much trash sorted and exposed
in this community improvising, at work, impatient––

attacked by some governments and important
media outlets––entities reaching out for the wires
in which user names are coiled sometimes exposed
then passed on to scammers who use what’s dumped
in material no one thought to destroy. Stuff bought
and password protected. Sent out of sight

from its source nation. Brought here now exposed
where the formerly unburdened consumer finds
his wires alive in a site of unmeasured impact.


Perdido Spar

It’s out there, somewhere, staring from a horizon
200 miles offshore, in water too deep for conventional
tension legs. They call it lost as if from men,
from ourselves––from Dido? A gamble on breaking into currents
deeper below wet crusts of rock: this floating case of steel,
air, ballast, pressure, measured exactly––the welded chambers

channeling oil into the pipelines, pulling deep-chambered
algae and plankton from million-year mud: a time horizon
too far to follow but drilled open, cracked by steel
and by explosive charges. The method is unconventional––
imagined through three billion dollars in currents
of desperate technology that radiate agency out from men’s

minds. Here master-slave arms uncouple from the men
who made them move uranium through glass chambers.
Now a sub-aqua rover glides, telemanipulated, between currents
as it tends to the wells: one video eye on the dark ultradeep horizon
it returns lit images up to the platform where 150 conventional
bodies maintain a cramped equilibrium inside epoxy-painted steel,

held for 2-week sessions within this coating ready to steal
heat from burning metal. The paint absorbs temperatures men
can’t withstand––it bubbles and chars towards where conventional
bonds break and unstable electrons cut the layer-cake chambers
down, melting. And whatever tropical disturbance covers the horizon
even then it is 2 hours’ flight 24 hours by boat through the currents

to any shore. How do I see this? Floating within the current
frame of cable grids, invisible but embedded, I am made in habits of steel
I have never seen. I have sensed some tremor past the horizon
where flames follow the lines down––where creatures cluster like men
and drink chemosynthetically what wafts up from the oil chambers.
Fire follows, crossing into the subsea system, and conventional

sentiments are announced on the website, our conventions
of interests mount, their appetites pressing like the currents
that bring a shark far too deep––looking for food at our chamber’s
very door––he rises inside the matrix of sub-aqua steel
installed over the submerged mountains: ranges that men
might never have seen, might have left dark, unbuilt upon, a horizon.

Kate Monaghan lives in New York and Oaxaca. She holds a PhD in classical Chinese literature and her writing has appeared in the American Poetry Review, Colorado Review, Yale Review, and elsewhere.