The Disease and The Bill

John Lowney: On "The Disease" and "The Bill"

The Congressional inquiry into the power companies' financial culpability is blocked as the breathing of stricken miners is blocked. The words of the subcommittee investigating the silicosis deaths have little impact: these "Words on a monument. / Capitoline thunder . . . cannot be enough" ( OS 37). In response to the futile words of this official monument, the poem counterposes its own monumental figure: "dead John Brown's body walking from a tunnel / to break the armored and concluded mind" (OS 37). Brown, the heroic figure whose "whole life becomes an image reaching backward and forward in history, illuminating all time" (LP 35), returns us to the poem's introductory survey of local West Virginia history, to the "granite SITE" of Brown's execution, but the history of this site has been rewritten.