“Vapour Villanelle” by Valerie Browne


I wrote” Vapour Villanelle” in response to the experiences recounted by Pennsylvania native Stacey Haney in Eliza Griswold’s Amity and Prosperity. Griswold’s book is an investigation of fracking and its impact on families and communities in America. I chose the villanelle form for this poem because of its repetitive nature (in terms of rhyme scheme). The form reflects not only the recurring fracking-related incidents that Stacey keeps noticing; it also mirrors Stacey’s mental state: her churning of the evidence repeatedly in her mind and her unwillingness to fully believe that Range Resources, the fracking company, can be responsible for poisoning her family and neighbors. That is, until the evidence against the company—and the government entities regulating them—becomes overwhelming.

It has to be coincidence,
The odor, the graying of the flowers I tend
An unrelated group of incidents

The Cherry Garcia fair tents
promise joy, my boy’ll defend
His first in goat showmanship…stumbling, a coincidence!

It will keep the horse in, the fence,
But it won’t keep chloroform out—penned 
a letter to RR. I’m afraid of these incidents.

My foundations are crumbling, my boy’s appearance:
wraithlike, wasting away like our water. I’ll bend
like a contortionist for them…can this be coincidence?

A steady leak--the toxic, damning evidence
The powers that be knew. We may never mend.
There’s no such thing as coincidence.
These were concomitant incidents. 

Valerie Browne recently graduated from West Virginia University with a B.A. in English and Russian Studies. She loves languages, literature, and the natural world, and incorporates these passions, as well as her interest in her Appalachian and Ukrainian heritage, in her writing. This fall, Valerie will be serving as a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant in Poland, where she will work with displaced Ukrainians as well as her host community.