Poem of the Week | April 25, 2022

This week’s Poem of the Week is “Fossil Fuels” by Sasha West.

Sasha West is the author of Failure and I Bury the Body (Harper Perennial), winner of the National Poetry Series and a Texas Institute of Letters Award, and the forthcoming collection How to Abandon Ship (Four Way Books). Her recent poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review Online, Agni, Georgia Review, and the anthology The Long Devotion: Poets Writing Motherhood. She lives in Austin, TX, and teaches at St. Edward’s University.


Fossil Fuels

              – after Naomi Klein

I had been so long away from you, in a vein
of the rock, waiting for you to find me
in peat. As you burn through
the leaves, the trees, I make you a cape
of smog. I keen in flares.
When you extract me, I am covered
in wet, like your daughter just birthed
and slick, like the bird you saw slouch
towards you from the Gulf. What is longing
but a thing that knows no
intermission. Even when you
can walk across the Gulf on rigs
you will hold and keep me. Tell me,
say: Oil is our everything. I, who have brought you
these clothes on ships,
and the light at night you kiss
his eyelids by, and the barrette that holds
her hair back. Whenever you gather,
I am among you. What shape
could we say craving has? My bones
in the ground become liquid
possibility. Of course, you can stop
any time you want. When we met
I said I’d steal you the sky
and there, proof of the theft,
the theft of the sky,
is the dark scrim
your lights make
of the stars. In exchange, I have
given you the Bakken flares
a bouquet of tiny orange
buds that flicker
into a quick
petal, and


Author’s Note

My forthcoming book wrestles with climate change and the ways we are both perpetrator and victim of it. As humans, we hand down plastics, pollution, radiation, animal carcasses, greenhouse gases—and the stories that fold all those violences into our daily lives. In the book, fossil fuels speak. They are older than us (of course) and have a kind of omniscience, but they are trickster and villain and pickup artist. I wanted a way to throw our human fear into relief; we are justified in our terrors but we are also these tiny, creative apex predators wandering a planet we think we own. The fossil fuels are longer than us. They know things. And they know what we want. I wanted a way to talk about the intimacy between us and reading Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything gave me the images that let me in.