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Not everyone can put together a book of poetry about a place. It takes time and relationships with the land, the water, the individuals who have lived lives and had the courage to give a piece of their own history to the random visitor who happens to venture into their space.

This week we sat enraptured by the stories and the poems read aloud by such a poet. Our first public event held at our office after all this time had

limited seating with unlimited numbers

of people who would be able to watch

on Facebook where it is stored in a video

Michael Woodruff recorded for us.

Once Upon a Tar Creek ~ Mining for Voices can be found at Chapters, the Miami Tribal Museum Gift Shop and of course on Amazon. Through these personae poems the years of research show the deep understanding Maryann has gained by taking the time to walk among us and listen. She says they are based, at least loosely on actual events, people, places, creatures, and I would add with just enough of a twist of imagination to let them work properly in your mouth when read aloud.

There will be selections that you will carry with you or groups of words you will recall much later.

The line in one poem that gets my son every time is:

I didn't always look this way.

It almost always makes me laugh, but the phrase also takes me to Tar Creek.

After all these years, you would have to say the same about Tar Creek. She didn't always look this way, but she sure has for the last 43 years. Every day with nothing yet done that has worked to stop the bleeding. But out there on Road 40 where the bridge crosses Tar Creek and the mine water gushes out of the ground, flowing into a damaged creek, mixes beneath your feet, or your car's wheels, and once blended heads on to the Neosho River.

Those metals from the mines flow in that water and went right into the story I wove together at the Noon's Lion Club meeting in Vinita this week. It is easy to connect those folks to our issues because right there on the table in front of them were their glasses of water, straight out of the tap, straight out of Grand Lake, where all that Tar Creek water ends up. And very easily into the fish they serve at the big Fish Fries held as fundraisers all around the lake.

Beginning with the simple statement of who I am, how I am tied to Vinita, where my Daddy grew up and where I live right now, on the edge of Mill Creek, I simply start with water and how we cannot survive without it, then pivot to dust and how they do not worry about dust there, not like we do in Ottawa County, it is stark to speak to people who do not worry about water, have no care about their children being lead poisoned, never knew anyone who wondered if their town would cave in at any moment. Superfund sounds like "fun" to them. They are so close to us, our neighboring county, but have no clue about the threat of the next rain storm becoming the flood of the century and the residue left behind by our Tar Creek, treasures of those heavy metals traced along the front and back yards and gardens and playgrounds.

It was like describing a horror story to a luncheon. Our lives are heavy. Reality is hard truth. So I switched it up and moved on to fish, who doesn't like a fish story, right? But then the fish are impacted too, even the ones they catch have our lead in them AND the mercury.

As an environmental activist, sometimes you know it is time to shut down even the fish stories, when one of those in the know asked, what about our farm ponds?

Did you ever hear that old story... "Slowly I turn, step by step",,, that gets repeated when someone says THE WORD that triggers more story? Yes, the farm ponds, that is a really sad story, my very own pond and many more like it, the fish in our ponds had more mercury than the lake or the rivers. They were shocked. One man looked at me with his mouth wide open, staring at me for having said that. I explained, ponds are trapped water, what mercury is deposited cannot escape and pretty much stays there accumulating both in the water and in the fish.

We started with water, so I ended with the great value in rain barrels, I had to lighten the load on them, right?

Respectfully Submitted ~ Rebecca Jim

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