The Ballad of the Lac-Mégantic Disaster

By George Elliott Clarke, 7th Parliamentary Poet Laureate (2016-17)

Reproduced with permission. First reading: Lac-Mégantic: Life Loss Legacy

7 PM, Sunday April 30, 2017, Atwater Library, Westmount, QC.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Rail Co.—Montreal, Maine, and Atlantic—

Was okay to let one guy staff

Or stall a train. Downhill, Lac-Mégantic

Slept, and the conductor booked off,

July 6, 2013, post-midnight,

While locomotives snorted, spit

Sparks and belched smoke, their black freight—a real fright—

74 cars, left to sit,

Seemingly at rest, parked until sunrise,

With steel-drum seas of black crude oil—

A feasible firestorm—left without eyes

To watch air-brakes. But catches fail….

The train was unflinching as it inched free

Of brakes that had just broken down,

After 1 a.m., and oil—a black sea—

Shuffled loose, now rolled, set to drown

A town in tides of fire—indelicate,

Unholy, obscene—to slather

Citizens and streets in a blitz of spit—

A greased spritz of flaming lather.

Wheels vacated blatantly where they’d stopped—

Those tanker cars slid now downhill—

Parallel rails let nothing interrupt

As the freight squeaked, squealed, squalled—brutal—

And began to hurtle, no more halting,

And careened—quite terrifying;

Wheels—not just turning, but somersaulting—

Brought Death—huge cannonballs, flying—

Next expropriating, devastating flames—

Equivalent to an onslaught

Of napalm bombs blamming grass-hut frames

(As in Vietnam). Now, a juggernaut,

The train disintegrated—atomic—

To desolate and immolate

That town—Lac-Mégantic. Vitriolic,

The petrol—black ejaculate—

Smothered, suffocated, who didn’t burn,

Or blaze to gore, each face charred, scorched;

Identities none could discern

Showed where scathing fuels tarred and torched.

The exploding freight dismantled the town—

Unilateral—like God’s whims;

A toxic concoction besmirched each noun.

Smoke smeared and smudged, choking off hymns.

The rollicking cholic of septic air

Had all still breathin now coughin;

The purgative Disaster that chanced here

Cankered survivors: They sob when laughin.

An inquest was held; some persons got blamed—

For the damage, the dirt, the deaths.

Some had to cringe, crouch low, as they got named,

For those coffins, those monoliths.

But the disaster that’s Lac-Mégantic

Marks no jinx? The Injustice

Was no runaway train? Greed—gone frantic—

May discount corpses countless?

The thirst for black ink can turn a blood sport

When Profit’s the trophy, and scorned

Is Safety—some businesses’ “last resort”

(Despite being sued, threatened, fined, and warned).

Too many lie dead at Lac-Mégantic;

Most due maybe to one mistake—

Failure that allegedly turned Tragic:

Expense-cutting that had no brake.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

© George Elliot Clarke 2017

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