Photo Credit: John Holmgren
Accustomed to our baked skin, it was hard to remember we smelled like
wet garbage until we sputtered past people who fakevomitted or threw solo
cups in our wake. Like everyone working for the dam we maintained an
image of functionality. A dam is justified by its abundance in each category:
power, irrigation, navigation, recreation. Every body on the water proves
that its unnatural swelling has utility. For us this meant drifting
uncomfortably close to recreators & counting with a loud clicker, our GPS
data demonstrating how and where the reservoir was used as a space. Flags
clumped on a grey grid like ticks on deer skin.
When a dam proves purposeless the government can, theoretically, take it away.
Every ten years the district files to renew their federal license, sending ours & other
collected numbers to the state. On counting days we were assured our
efforts meant something to commissioners personally. Sugar cookies &
black coffee. The sort of things you offer someone after they donate a sack
of their own blood, buy a house from you, count your bodies.
We liked to imagine what it would look like to revoke the dam. Crush it
out. Expose a scattered history. We were aware of what was sacrificed for
the affordability of electricity. That, when considering the common good,
flooding a truck stop town meant nothing in comparison to lit-up houses,
ours especially. We never understood the generation of power but that the
power was sent in boxes to other states, the dam safe due to the level at
which it generates. We’d heard of the abandoned buildings one hundred
feet below us accumulating algae. The imposed sacrifice of Native land so
much land. Knowing what we knew about the reservoir it was difficult to
count people half naked & vodka-drunk on a jet ski. They cut past. You
could hear the water burning. To gather floating wrappers. Check the list
of boxes saying these are important. These are the communities the dam is
The dam is a line after which the river is class divided. I.E. where is higher
up where has less cattle ditch run-off billowing into it. On the south end
fewer bodies, a sense of purpose. There we’d count families
swimming in holes where tributaries met the river. Children jumping off
the knobbed branches of cherry trees. The longest stretch without a town.
Buildings abandoned after the failure of the local railroad industry. People
sat between cinder block foundations, digging rods into river rock to reel
in ten-foot sturgeon. Not a popular fish but it made for months of meat.
These were people who worked for orchards, the nuclear reservation, or
with us at the dam in some capacity.
The resorts north of the dam were illegally lodged in protected wetlands.
Harsh, imported stones jutting around grey, repetitive condo buildings.
Vacation homes of the kids I knew from high school. While we counted
their party-barges I twisted my recognizably curly hair into a baseball hat.
Their glowing bodies the most beautiful I’d ever seen, so forced tan like
after peeling the first layer of bark off a pine tree. Walking an exposed sand
dune, I had trash bags tied through belt loops. I would think, finding bottles
of lube and whiskey in the brush, how I wanted to be someone with no
register of environmental impact. My sweating jeans. I hated the crew for
looking at these girls around me. I simultaneously wanted protection from
men noticing my dressed body.
Once, we counted four hundred recreators in one stretch. Spiraling
footballs. Different stations of the same country music. None of them
thinking their noise as a kind of violence. The steady motions of a deer’s
head as it swam, displaced, between those thin islands.
Taneum Bambrick is the author of Reservoir, which was selected by Ocean Vuong for the 2017 Yemassee Chapbook Contest. She is a recent graduate of the MFA program at the University of Arizona. She serves as an Associate Editor for Narrative Magazine. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Academy of American Poets, Blackbird, Pleiades, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Hobart, The Nashville Review, New Delta Review, and elsewhere. She has received an Academy of American Poets University Prize, and scholarships from the Sewanee Writer’s Conference and the Bread Loaf Orion Environmental Writers’ Conference.