As a woman drawn to water like a dreamy magnet Maryann Hurtt seeks out water with a passion. Having family roots here, when she arrived she found Tar Creek and was shocked and amazed when she noticed "someone had methodically sprayed orange neon paint along the creek banks and the water was pumpkin tinged. She could not imagine the energy or the possible motive to so completely vandalize the creek."
At the poetry reading we entitled, "Once Upon a Tar Creek" for the soon to be published volume, Mrs. Hurtt began with the line, "I didn't always look this way" to allow the part snake, feathered creature she first encountered in Tar Creek to speak in the first poem. She longs for yet another glimpse each time she returns.
I have to say, Maryann Hurtt got hooked on Tar Creek. It was the defiled water that outraged her.
When she got home in Wisconsin, she read everything she could about this creek and this place. Each time she has returned to Oklahoma, she meets more people and asks more questions. What she did for our audience was to simply ask questions like, "Have you heard of the 3 story barn? Did you know the significance of the man who built it?"
She has found the places her grandparents worked and visits them. It was in the Mining Museum in Picher she saw the picture of her grandfather as a miner and I know how she must have looked when she gazed upon his face, because I saw that look on Donna Webster's face when she found her father as a young man on those walls. Both men died young from the dust. The dust in the mines caused silicosis. Maryann's father thought he could out run it and took his family away during the dustbowl, but it got him anyway.
Each time she comes, she eats a breakfast at the Mini-Mall in what was a Miami hotel, because her grandmother used to cook in the cafe eighty years ago.
Maryann told a story and of course the poem followed about the son of William Clark, of LEWIS AND CLARK, Halaftooki (Daytime Smoke) whose mother was a Nez Perce. Indian Territory was a dumping ground for tribes, some stayed stuck here, others like the Nez Perce were brought here as prisoners of war and eventually were able to leave. So the son of William Clark was in Ottawa County with Chief Joseph, the REAL Chief Joseph, who eloquently spoke of justice and peace. I wonder if chat dust now in their language might translate to something like "Daytime Smoke."
We arranged Miami High School artwork behind the podium that had served Bob Walkup all his years teaching Civics at Will Rogers. Meredith MacQueeney's Tar Creek Monster was among those hangings. The poet faced the sun, as she had hoped to get as much sun as possible before heading back to winter in Wisconsin.
In the preface of her upcoming book, she reflected about how chance encounters change the way we see the world and make us care in ways we don't know possible. She wondered if her heart bleeds orange now and I am thinking maybe it does. And maybe mine does too. But the water I want to see flowing won't be orange in the future, it will be clear and clean.
One of the last times she visited Tar Creek her socks got stained orange and stayed that way, my hope is those days will end in the future and if you all push for it, those stains on the trees and along the banks will only be stories, or lines in poems written by folks after they hear these stories.
I am not sure when the poems about the aftermath of the Picher buyout will be birthed and how our current EPA administrator, then Oklahoma's Attorney General buried the audit of the process and why. But more of the parts of that story has been revealed and I am believing this story is not over.
If money could have gone to ensure equity and make those leaving's transition easier, if an ombudsman of sorts could have been assigned to assist the elderly find their new most perfect homes, if a common center could have been built to maintain community and hang those high school photos. My poem might then need to talk of justice.
What if some of that questionable spending could have paid the back rent to the tribal owners of the land that were not compensated in the buyout? All this said, it is easy to understand this story is not yet poetry.
Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim