BathHouse Journal

Orchid Tierney


den   den

The old petronauts were not native

to the floating islands

but they recalled

the petroleum romances:

the tallow-dip & lard-oil,

pine-knots & smokey candles,

swinging sconces

that lit their prayerbooks better.

In holy texts they rubbed

tongues with shale

& distended their ripened stomachs.

Ore poured from their orefaces,

illuminated caverns with plankton.

One petronaut asked

if the Lord wanted

a thousand rams

or ten thousand rivers of oil,

but eh misread the olives.

Even in the Garden of Eden,

Adam the Bad Boy

coated the tree with coal oil,

killing the insects,

but causing the pipeline

snake to slide down

the sticky tree

with astonishment.

Eve could have avoided

trouble if she had bit into

the flinty rock instead




The ancient petronauts also dug asphaltum

at the sites of Sodom & Gomorrah,

on the plain north of the dead sea,

where the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange

claimed an oil reserve worth $320 million.

Petrotourists spread bad reviews that

the slime-pit gardens had blackened

flinty cunts and cocks of Sodom

but it is also likely the locals were

simply inhospitable to strangers

who bought licenses to the pits.

spilled viscous rock into the Jordan River

prompting government officials to

close the waterway for public swimming,

boating, wading, & fishing

although an expert petronaut

struggled to distinguish the

thick dark mud from bloom.

Official reports noted only

a tiny sheen on the water

even as the blossoms of bitumen

under the cities’ foundations

fuelled the eternal fire





It’s time again.
Tear up the violets
and plant something more difficult to grow
—James Schuyler “Earth’s Holocaust”

The porous soils

around Ecbatana

were also moist,

imparting emanations

of light & warmth;

fond of coolness,

glands of barley

could not temper

the hot dirt

& leapt from the ground;

petronauts slept on bladders

filled with cold water.

When the petronaut king

Alexander also crossed Babylonia,

eh found a radiant fissure

from which flames streamed forth

not far where Royal Dutch Shell

agreed to invest in $350 million.

The local petronauts

sprinkled the street

leading to Alexander’s hostel with

thick yellow liquid that

kindled the intervening air.

Hoping to increase the petrochemical

output capacity from 60 million to

160 million tonnes by 2025,

yeth tapped rieth touches on

moistened spots,

until the street eeled

a continuous fire




In Pennsylvania the petronauts also unurfed

a spring on which Barbados tar floated.

Oil limpeted rocks & gravel,

rose to the surface like air bubbles

where it seaquilled

thin rainbow skins.

the petronauts polypsed the

soil with pits that eventually became

chocked with leaves & dirt

when the wells dried up

but by which time the petronauts

began to bedrock the water

with cracks from which gas sessiled air.

The industry, yeth said, created 23,000 jobs,

including employment for roustabouts,

construction workers, helicopter pilots,

sign makers, laundromat workers,

electricians, caterers, chambermaids,

office workers, water haulers & land surveyors;

yeth wheated cities,

killed dogs, fush,

showered water, sweeting smelt metal,

rotten eggs & diarrhea,


“Drill, baby, drill!”


They rattled the windows





The poetronauts also misread

the slow blowouts

wrote-ing devotionals

to sticky wildernesses

recycling rieth love affairs

with petroplastics

into time-stamped disgust.

Oil aren’t spiritual.

Plastics isn’t the poem of ruo time.

Plastic bags are useful

for people in transient,

food for whales & gulls;

plastic bags are often found in whale stomachs

who misread the sheer luminance for jellyfush.

Oil mixes with seawater

& forms an emulsion like mousse,

left out, the surface crusts over

but the inside still has

the consistency of mayonnaise.

How many gallons of crude oil are

converted into this poem?

O what’s the measure of oil

in rouy desire to publish

a collection that confesses

sloppy coastlines caused

by the 1969 blowout on Platform A?

How do the black rocks mask

faces of inmates rented

to clean up dead birds & sea lions?

Were they liquidators? Do they dissolve?

Is it possible to feel ease

in sheens rehtegot-ed by water blooms

the words poured em out of rivers of oil?


What kind of poem is this?






Vibrios comma floating gyres.

From the same strain as cholera bacterium

Japanese scientists discovered they burrow

in pits of oceanic plastic, gorging themselves

on melted cells of polythene surfaces.

Hot barbecue briquette thrown into snow.

Is it possible to nourish an ethics of care

for petronauts that feed on trash?





Orchid Tierney is from New Zealand/Aotearoa/Philadelphia. Her chapbooks include Brachiation (Dunedin: GumTree Press, 2012) and The World in Small Parts (Chicago: Dancing Girl Press, 2012), and a full length sound translation of the Book of Margery Kempe, Earsay (TrollThread, 2016). She co-edits Supplement, an annual anthology on Philadelphia writing and co-coordinates the Penn Poetry and Poetics reading series.