The Land of the Dead Is Open for Business
The Land of the Dead Is Open for Business is an extended elegy for Jacob Strautmann’s home state of West Virginia and its generations of inhabitants sold out by the false promise of the American Dream. Throughout the book, voices rise up from the page to describe a landscape eroded and plundered by runaway capitalism—its mountain tops leveled by the extractive industries, its waters polluted by runoff from mines—and the fallout from that waste. Those who remain are consigned to life in a ravaged land denuded of nature where birds die and “Sheep/birth limp two-headed things and some / that speak like men if they speak at all.”
The farmhouse leans in light
the landscape holds exquisitely.
In a crescent men watch the scorchwind,
eyes as dry as gravel spades.
Clapboards curl. The frame pops
its locks and birds abandon; out
the cellar door mice twist and bolt.
A black tree sings from the center
of total loss. Years, years pass.
The landlords rent a dozer
their nephew throttles to cover
the ditch: a piano’s charred lip,
ivory teeth pressed to the clay,
mess of wire and flashing,
and skulls of marsh ducks coddled
in luxuriant fronds, rusted tub.
He buries the mason jars. A porcelain
cracks, spits frogs, collapses.
The dirt tamps, the diesel buckets
heave a last good turn.