Friday, September 03, 2010

Poetry Friday: Charcoal

I had already written today's Poetry Friday post (I usually do them on Thursday night) but decided to postpone it to next week because of the smell wafting in my bedroom window. It's the smell of someone in the neighborhood making charcoal. I started thinking about a poem I wrote about this a while ago, and when I looked it up, I found I liked it better than I remembered.

Here is an article explaining the charcoal-making process and why all of this is an environmental disaster in Haiti.


Charbonnier est maître chez soi.
(The charcoal maker is the master in his own home.) - French proverb

Charcoal makers
Take scraps of wood,
and roots dug from the earth.
They bury them in a pit,
Set them alight
And cover the fire over
With grass,

They poke holes in the pile
To let out the smoke
Which rises,
Smelling like death,
From the mound.

Smelling like death,
Like decay,
A primeval smell
Like dinosaurs rotting
In prehistoric forests.
Except this time it is the forests
That are about to be extinct.

After a while,
The charbonniers dig up the charcoal,
Put it in bags,
And take it to sell.

Please, Monsieur Charbonnier,
I need your charcoal to cook
But my island needs trees to live.
The trees are gone,
Which is why you are using stumps.
When will they be gone too?

You, Monsieur Charbonnier,
are the master here.
For now.

by Ruth, from

I haven't ever taken a picture of people making charcoal, but here are some of people selling it.

You can buy it in giant bags like this...

or in tiny amounts from this lady. Propane is cheaper but it has big setup charges, and you can't buy just a squirt of propane, whereas you can buy a couple of sticks of charcoal when money is tight. For the poor, who live from day to day, there is not much of an alternative.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Mary Lee said...

What a sad conundrum...

Alison Pearce Stevens said...

That's a powerful poem. And it's such a difficult challenge to overcome. Thanks for sharing this.

Karen Edmisten said...

Wow. To the environmental disaster, the conundrum and your poem.

Tricia said...

Powerful, indeed. And good point about how you can't just get a squirt of propane - I suspect that is often forgotten in discussions/debates removed from the scene.