Rolling Coal

Rolling Coal

Rolling Coal32 in ’85, in a B model Mack
more than 20 years old, accelerating
from each light with gray-black smoke
spewing a cloud of death, my signature
the black particles settling everywhere,
to my great embarrassment.

Mental notes, gathered through the day
while I struggle with a transmission
that has seen better days, jotted down
at day’s end, nothing more than rants
about profit over ecology, an economy
of words just short of poetry.

Three more years before those dinosaurs
are retired, even then seen around town,
someone else’s signature, and my writing
turns to things internal, poetry. Even so,
trucks that shift like fluid, leave fewer visible
traces of their passing, continue with emissions.

’06 and retirement, just when electronics-
tailored engines start to address air quality.
No longer my concern, but isn’t it?
More time means more time outdoors,
just as conscious, my appreciation reflected
in my poems composed on a kayak.

Driving home after a day on the water, I wait
for the light to change. Some people never do.
Green light, and the pickup ahead takes off,
rolling coal enveloping my car in black. Too late
to close my vents, all I see and taste is black.
Hoping to clear the air, I pull over to take notes.


This poem is my response to earthweal weekly challenge: EARTHCRAFT.

In 1985, I lost my job on the loading dock of a trucking company when a merger brought in men with more seniority. I had obtained my CDL (back then called a Class 1 license) when I was twenty-one, but had never used it. That license led to my next job in local pickup and delivery and served me until I retired in 2006. At first, I was low man on the totem pole at the new company, with no choice of equipment. I often drove the oldest trucks in the fleet. Emission standards were very lax at the time, and those trucks were in sad need of retirement. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see diesel-powered pickups with exhaust systems modified to bypass emission controls. The drivers are called “coal rollers” for their practice of blasting pedestrians, etc., with their black exhaust. The trucks I was embarrassed to drive in 1985, for the same company as the image, looked much worse than that picture.

6 thoughts on “Rolling Coal

  1. Memoir from side of the road! With history of trucking! I like the story behind the poem as much as the poem – all educational for me. Thank you! I wasn’t aware of current “coal-rollers” – disgusting!
    (I’ve had a long-distance affection for trucks and truck drivers since my preteen days. Back then we kept car windows down (no AC) and we waved when passing big rigs on the highway – the drivers always waved back – I imagined them considerably more fun to be with than my parents and wished to some day be a truck driver waving down at others from my cab loft … My fantasy never came anywhere near happening. Though there ARE now women truck drivers! Waves between trucks and other vehicles? No longer happening.)


    • Thank you, Jazz.
      Sometimes homes are on the edge of (or in) industrial areas. Some plants in Buffalo required trucks to drive down residential streets to get to the plants. Kids would give an arm gesture to hear an air horn, but our city trucks didn’t have them.
      Coal rolling has become a thing against protesters. Here’s a news video about the general practice:


  2. The defiance of the coal rollers to double down on a dying industry (and its gnarly emissions) is the most shining metaphor of refusing to evolve, proof that humanity is going to strangle the earth before it saves it. Great narrative here between the worlds, working for a living on its roads and kayaking away in poetry. I worked in the bowels of the industrial machine (warehousing mostly) in the early decades of my work life, the satanic mills leave an impress on dreams and the borderlands of verse. – Brendan


  3. More proof that local is best, when we can manage it, having just read a very depressing article on ship pollution. I don’t understand the wish to destroy our home–even if it did actually create more jobs,, which is doubtful, money can not replace our fragile ecosystem. Ignorance is not “freedom”.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: All Is Not Lost | rivrvlogr

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