Natural Gas Boom, Tipton County

Jared Carter


“It was a kind of rhythm,” she said, stirring

ever so slightly in the porch swing, until

it creaked to a stop.  I could not quite see her –

interval of first firefly, evening star.


“I was ten years old when they discovered it.

Overnight, towns with five hundred people

shot up to five thousand.  They thought the gas

would last forever, that the millennium had come.”


“They walked with a swagger – proud of the way

they wasted it.  They let the streetlamps burn

night and day.  Too much trouble to hire a man

to go around and put them out each morning.”


She was silent for a moment.  It was a long ago.

“My stepmother had my father sign up to pay

a dollar a month for workmen to run a pipe out

to our side yard, to give light.  It was called


“a flambeau, and it burned night and day.

Never went out.  For a ten-year-old farm girl

it was like the pillar of fire and smoke

the Israelites followed to the promised land.”


She had spoken of that house before:  how once

a photographer came, and posed father, stepmother,

her own brother, Glenn, her two stepbrothers

and her stepsister, with the house behind them.


She recalled her father wore a Democratic badge;

it must have been at the time of Cleveland’s

second inaugural.  And the boys, how they fancied

long mustaches, waxed and curled, like those


of villains they saw in plays at the opera house.

Her stepmother wound her hands in her best apron.

My grandmother, fourteen, wore a straw hat and gloves.

I never saw the photo, it was lost before I was born.


Sometimes she talked about it – how expectant

they all looked, standing there.  The gas would

flow uninterruptedly for ten more years, forming

a ring of factories and buildings – a vast globe


of energy hovering over the farmlands, veined,

casting no shadow.  “I remember,” she went on,

“how cold it was, that last morning, when the gas

finally gave out.  We looked across the fields


“toward town, and it was dark, and we knew

the boom was over.  Done.  We could hear

people calling out and shouting, all that way –

they were ruined.  They had lost everything.”


She fell silent.  An evening chill had come on.

I sensed, for the first time, that the photographer

had taken care to keep the flambeau in the yard

behind them, that what she remembered,


what she noticed, even in the way they posed,

back when they thought it would last forever

(“a rhythm.  You could reach out and touch it”) –

the way the girls interlaced their arms –


all of that was tinged by a strange glow,

as though standing behind them, invisible

in that earthly garden, some presence, terrible

and unforgiving, was about to lift its sword.