Athabasca: Oil Sands Poetry




Tree Bones


The Rape of the Earth

Pebble Beach

Out of the Salt

War Machine

Death by Oil

The Global Ghost

Unbolted Love

K'ai Taile Dene


This brief collection of Oil Sands Poetry was written while I was employed on the Athabasca Oil Sands Project in Northern Alberta. I needed a job, the door was open and the money was good. It was hard being away from family and friends for so long but the week off every month and the cash to enjoy my time off made it worthwhile.

When I stepped off the plane it was minus 50 degrees. The words "cold" or "freezing" don't do justice: a new word needs to be invented, maybe combining excruciating and frozen. (exfroziating?) I broke out into a strange red rash over my whole body that last my entire first two weeks on site. I couldn't get warm, no matter how many layers I put on and at night a shivered under the blankets. After a couple turns up there I got used to it. Eventually minus 15 was a nice warm day.


My first trip onto the new Kearl Lake refinery occurred in the dead of night. It is difficult to describe the feeling I experienced driving through the tank farm, extraction and froth areas that evening. All the workers had gone home, the site was deserted and lit up with floodlights like some haunted sports arena from a sci-fi movie.

The pipes and vats, overhead racks and convoluted metal tubing made me think of Mordor or the dark satanic mills of William Blake. All the humanity and compassion seemed to be sucked out of the air by the howling arctic winds that blew snow and dust over the roadways: how could man envision and design such a place?

The destruction of the environment is profound. First the forest is removed. Then, 60 feet of topsoil are dug up by the giant earth machines. Under that lies the black tar sands that the oil companies covet to produce bitumen. Billions and billions of dollars are sunk into developing the industry. One major oil company is rumored to have invested $20 billion in 3 years and they still have not extracted any of the raw crude oil yet.

It seems utterly backwards to power the plants by using clean natural gas in order to make dirty bitumen. And despite the enormous expense, the oil giants still make money. It doesn't really matter what the oil costs because our global industrial complex is powered by oil - we are completely dependent on it.

That probably makes me and everyone else that works up there hypocrites. Unfortunately, we are all part of the system: we drive cars and heat our homes; we use the plastic products produced by petroleum daily; we drive on roads made of asphalt to get to our corporate jobs where we work to maintain and further the goals and aspirations of wealthy, powerful men who seem to have no concern for us, our environment or the future of our planet.

And for this, we take our dearly-earned paychecks  and try to build a better life. We feed our kids and give them an education in the hopes that the world we hand over to them will be better than the one that was handed over to us by our parents and grandparents. Will the cycle continues until all the oil is gone, and the forests destroyed and the Earth is completed plundered of all its natural resources?

The alarming reality is that there is no Plan B; our national leaders have little thought of the next 100 or 500 years. Oil is just part of the system we live under here on Earth; our leaders appear to function with the sole purpose of staying in power and not for the betterment of our world as a whole, regardless of their rhetoric and overtures of philanthropy and goodwill.

However, there are people who care about our planet and the life it contains: we can soldier on, hopeful and confident that this empire of materialism can be overcome by the love and respect of all living things and we can, in time, usher in a new era of freedom and brotherhood on our ailing planet, third from the Sun.


​​When all the trees have been cut don,

When all the animals have been hunted,

When all the waters are polluted.

When all the air is unsafe to breathe

Only then will you know...

You cannot eat money

-- Cree Prophecy



Snake the frozen iron

Industrial pit of pipe,

And flood the black light;

Rake the gravel tar

And froth and seethe

My chemical rude septic men.


The pitiless machine shovel


The cruel skill

Of the skull craning crew of men;

Who muzzle their tame rage

On the poor broken land.


Crack of timber torment,

The dark forest pine

And rape the fell branch flesh;

The frozen smash

Of brush piled to burn.

Who mauled


The limping scowl of wolf

And lame groaning

Branch of metal pain?

Nuzzle the fox prowl, and lynx


The pine scalped earth.


The dark batch of black ooze

Guzzles the spent soil;

And sift

The witch miners who

Agitate the vats:

For signs, ciphers, codes and a name.


​The scattered

file workers ant into the sculpted beast;

And steel the still terror

Of archaic cement craft;

Mind of disdain

Who designs and sleeps.


My dust and dreaded

Stout steel

Belted men, bolted servants

Of barrels

And barren plague

Of empty, useless oil.


O the ice hole

Of howling snow;

The leeching tears

Soil the frozen soul

Of the gaveled men

Who weep for the poor pagan machine.


Their fat corporate


Spits the smug accounts;

Bleeding the droll beast.

And the slotted

Blame boys fell silently lost

From the cold winter sky.

Tree Bones


Thin stacks of tree bones

Piled forest corpse, crippled

Branch and birch,

Poplar, pine and skinny

Bark arms;

Clutch at the bitter sun, sucking

Breath of wind blown

And northern squall bites

The pale suburban skin.


To punish the sharp-tailed grouse

And agonize the grey fox,

The stolen zoo.

Manacles of metal

Machines and diesel smoke scalds

The lunching crew

Their goggles, gloves and hats;

Stoke the blunt face,

And forge the blank stare.


This pious belly of pipe


The black bile of sanctimonious oil;

Down the gullet

Of the thick human breast;

Swallowed be the muck

Hallowed be the earth.

The bleak tundra soil churned

And squeezed out the last sour drop.




Cold tube steel

and smooth turbine seams,

the chrome bell pipes laid

in precision racks of

smelted gleam.

The fatal smile

mirrored concrete,

plastic and glass.


Pristine rows

and patient coffin beams,

fitted metal bolts

and titanium skull domes;

the hum and power

and bold towers. Slant

stern watchful iron

and cool electric tones.


To crush the human infraction

and break the supple will;

The safety police

write the soft code

into the brave nerve.

The hardwired heart burnt;

the freed man cuffed

and pour the boiled fresh moulds.


Dare to bow

before altar’s science

or crave the secular god;

rule the twisted optic

cellular eye.

The dogs of banks and oilmen

bunkering the pit

of stocks.

Prying the bauxite floor;

up heaves the plates

and the hollowed Earth gives no more.

They suck the oil and gas coin

between jaded teeth,

while blind, sour men wipe

bland eyes,

and serve the global beast.


O my broken brothers,

fret not the cult of banks,

nor soothe the crooked oil.

Rain down the fat bear;

and love the brother deer,

the frozen sun severed stones.

My brothers, sisters, mothers and sons.


The Rape of the Earth


My boys are blank, bitching

at the man, belching

their fat peptic rant;

cowing to the suited foe

and push the bully back.

They lawyer up and bend

their will to the god bosses

who bribe

their pride into the bank.


The boys blame the sacred drone

when the scalding bosses vent;

and scold the crowing boy,

and break his crowing heart;

His derision is a curse

festered balloon

that pops the business bubble

and bursts the stained purse.


And here we are

the poor working tramps,

paid to brave the damp,

and turn the slumping clods.

We sink our ankles in the mud

and scrape the thaw from urban boots.

Milking the soil

from the oil soaked breast

and play partner to the rape of forest earth.


​​We hold her down while roughnecks drill

and pale oilmen

prod her damp dirt crotch;

The hydro crackers pour

their toxic brew;

while the fracking crew

clogs her frozen throat

and force their bits

into her clanking screws.


Pebble Beach


The lark sun kissed its jewels

and the ice crystals

sparkled white.

Old black raven, fat as a chicken, waddles

over the crunching snow,

past the orange propane tank

and the blue generator.


The underfed pines

choked by diesel

burnt and amber red;

they shadow over

the long tin trailers

that rattle in the slicing wind.


Beyond the fence

a low hump of dirt

hides the grunting machine,

digging up its hole

piling up its dirt;

arguing with the rock

all the cold black night.


I sit by the window

at peace with the ice

and the snow

that killed the lynx,

that ate the slain hare.

And the sun is cruel by day

pushing back the night.

​Over by the fence

that squares around the camp:

the footprints

in the pure white snow,

crows watch and wait

for the dinner scraps

of the silent young men;


Who troop and stamp

and cash their cheques;

bag their lunch

and bundle back

to camp;

to sleep and dream

of warm cities on the coast.


And I, the author of dissent

poke at the soft entrails,

and peck at the meaning

of the fox smacked

by truck;

and ravens, fat as chickens,

tear and gorge the skin off its back.

Out of the Salt


Out of the salt debris

and dead worm leaf,

stone plate and crushed tectonic;

carbonic plants

and burnt diamond coal

of rust, shale blast.

By the ton pressed march of ages

the black fire and cup of mud

soothed and seeped the crank heart

of the oil crazed men.


Who craved the dark muck

and slaved the dank mud?

And braved the damn boys.

Who felled the dumb trees

and killed the wood fox?

And caved the blank earth.

Who tossed the brown mulch

and bled the arctic dirt?

And killed the forest joy.


Who’s to blame

but banks and ties,

suits and jets flown

over the warm black soil

and accounting men with oak desks

and mercedes leather.

Trees cut to feed faxes

and taxes saved to slaughter the Earth.

​Who rocked the stone boat

and tricked the slave heart?

And gassed the fuel tank.

Who bought the big screen

and fed the tame lies?

And voted the crooked men.

Who played the same game

and took the cheat card?

And knifed the blame beast.


Then who’s to blame,

but the corporate heart.

That takes the skin and eats the cake;

pulls the pin and bombs the cow.

and licks the crafted words;

And busts the tank and shapes the news,

To cut the pages and kill the god:

And then waddle off to work,

worthless hours wasted.

The lords over all the Earth.


The lords over all the Earth.


War Machine


Disease of death

and chronic skull bones of lurching tank;

bucket of bolt

and tomb;

crash and crush the wood stick huts

and brick bungalows

strewn along the low Afghan hills.


The general grips the wheel

and folds the white papers in his fat fumbled hands.

Blank bankers plot and pay the honed agents

who forge the perfect maps

and hack the perfect drones;

Fly the night zones,

and bomb the stone towns.


Blunt clerks cook the copy

and stew the news;

enhance the photos

and spin the stale doctored line;

tape the fake sky and shape the global mind;

and kiss the global lips,

and crush the perfect words.


Oilmen groan and stretch,

plug in the pipe

and blow the skank fuel

down the cold pipeline;

The breasted suits confer and gas up

The blast machine;

and scroll the verse and kiss the ring.


A dole lank youth

packs his gear and chisels a bible verse

into the steel gun;

bolts the bang gun,

and twists the throat grenade.

And feeds the dumb machine that drains the city's blood.


Bankers count the famous dough

and lick the sweet coin;

puff up the iconic dream and spin.

The patron scrolls the next slide

and cues the graph;

while poker-face men

drive their smooth cars into the gated house.


An ancient tribe

opens its holy book and chants a holy verse:

mumbling nations shudder and fear

the mortal death;

while sightless men sail white yachts

under a cold moon in the dead of night.

Death by Oil


My back broken whale

the shark fin slaughter,

the dying soup of sea.

Oceans poisoned,

fish schools floated;

the sunless bottomless coral reef.


The ocean soaked oxygen bones

washed and salted

dried plastic

and smooth oil slick;

breached by the oil drillers

who lift the plate and strain the crude.


Round Earth has no joy or pain

only stained, boned cloudpour

dust deviled wild beast,

tusk trader

and rhino hide skinners

flail the mute beasts.


This poem with all my might

I pray the least fish,

the slain mink;

this fur and feet father

that hoof and claw brother

this silent spoken prayer.


And drain the lake empty

dead the trout river

stale the air filter;

shred the ozone layer

melt the ice desert

and empty the oceans forever.

Kill the tame beast

corral the cow and pig

bless the mute dog

pump the dread drug

break the gene code

and splice the love kiss.


The grass is burnt brown

the waves and barren salt

fish are long gone;

my skies are burnt black

my sun is glaring red;

my moon is chained to an ebbing post.


Who will save it then?

when saving is at an end

the gems are all lost

the copper blown away

the oil burned and gone

the soil turned to dust.


Who will quench my thirst?

says the spent Earth.

How will the rains return

when the lakes are bone dry?

when the rivers run with blood

by the human's lust for death.

When the forests die and the birds sing no more.



The Global Ghost




My global ghost of masses writhe,

Teeming over, boils the blood and blind

Weeping wail of human race;

The viral spread of bleating host

Who hacked the bloated beached whale.


The global ghost drank water in its bed

And madmen piled the swollen heap of lies;

Made the sacred sign and raised the glass,

To toast the nuclear oil-soaked tribe:

Who spit their teeth into the salting pool;


And peeled the skin off the tattooed girls

Who slaved and raped the house of sex;

Then broke the boys at the firing range,

Slaughtered the beast and burnt the flag;

And slowly killed the poor lame voodoo state.




O my poor aching world

Cold, your blood stained tears of love

Wash the salt into the earth;

And pour, pour, pour the sweet honey lips

Into the slinking pile of rotting wires.


All the dead germ wars wasted

And microwave minds melted;

By screens and cells and whining wires

That lit the veins and dropped the bombs;

And burst the blood of the blond fragrant men.


​​​When the cities melt into a lake

Of lava burning tongues and tribes;

Tormented hands of scalded war

Milk and butcher sacred cows;

And the church of mud in the oven dries.




Iron and clay sons of faith;

Who rocked the baby until she sang;

A broken tune of sacred love

And all the children lost their homes,

Until all was left was child and bone.


And crushed the rock until it bled

And all the fathers died of stone;

All the children reaped the earth

And gave to it a new name and birth.

So said he who wrote the words.


So said he who wrote the words.

Unbolted Love



​In the bitter and bland pill of hours

when blood is dust.

In the dirt of the dried sun-festering day;

the hung clouds pile on

the spun turning metal Earth.

Singing the mortal tune

my crew of best and worst men

sing the Hi-Ho of plodding work.


The leeching hours burn

the long list of stale afternoons.

The droning hello and goodbye

of my thumping henchmen

lead the charge;

and the craning girls cackle

and howl the comedy of crack and ale.




Who am I to pinch the hours

of the moaning crew;

Or punish the feeble mop who wipes the loo?

Who avoids the sleeping soul

or rids the muck from under his nail?

And ignore the great rushing blast

that blows up against their wooden brains?


​Their bland juice sucks the bleach

from my thin blood;and relentless

they pile on the dull routine

of pipes and clocks and bolts and clocks

and faxes and memos of meetings of men.

Their deep soul of mundane

rips the joy from my aching back.




I long to be free

To kiss the carpet

and feel the sun's layers sift

across my naked spine.

Or languid on the beach,

brave the swooping waves

and sink the unbolted love into my breathing pores.


But oh, these tired tunes

squeeze the last juice from my daydreams;

and force the same unthinking boys

to hack and stab at the warming truth.

The punish of men is laid upon me

like the stones on the temple floor,

they tread the pavement underfoot

and rid the world of idyllic youth.

K'ai Taile Dene

(people of the land of the willow)


this land is our soul,

said the sawfly who sat and sifted the goldenrod

and yellow sweet clover,


and tussock sedge.


this is my body laughed the brook trout

and the wood bison nodded to the beaver,

squirrel, porcupine and vole.


we are so close to the land,

said the Chippewa brother

while the carpenter ant marched

and the black blister beetle scratched his back

crawling up the ice pruned black spruce.


partridgeberry are my food

munched the black bear

and the trembling aspen sighed.


when you see

this mother earth, said the Cree mother,

where there are reeds one after another

keeping alive our connection,

our hunters, trappers, fishers and elders…


migrate to this abundance

of insects, bogs and lakes,

the cave cricket chirped.


pass it along to the next generation:

the earth and

all creatures that live on it are a gift from

the Creator,

said the sweet bee to the digger bee:

​and the paper birch swayed in the wind.


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