Iowa River: How many times can you retell your story? A glass of water; blue is all you want, you’re thirsty. On the nation’s most endangered list. Santa Fe 2nd, San Mateo Creek 3rd. Words on a page cannot fully describe the background to the number given: First. Entrance To Hell! Get Back If You Can… Runs 329 miles south to east where it empties into the Mississippi like an esophagus. Fecal bacteria, sediment from farm fields, livestock sewer system: No, ‘there’s nothing’ they- the EPA- ‘can do’. Iowa City: top American stomach cancer city. Did sell us down the river. The basics of how to take care of something. Rivers: you can’t surround them on all sides and expect them to work. All along the river, people seem preoccupied, live perpetually in a total blackout. That locks the deep broad river in its grip. You want to lose consciousness of it as fast as you can. To all that you are and all that you have been. The wine you start drinking when everything older has been drunk. Have difficulty standing. To withstand this enormous lateral force. But nothing by a river is escapable. We’ve played this game until late into the night. Little is left to leave behind. How a soul can temporarily leave the body. It didn’t follow the rules anymore. Driven back and withdrew from the land. Will never pay its way. All it can do is roll. This direction and that direction and another direction. Like a wild animal trapped in a suit. A license to shoot an animal is cheap- you know it, I know it. River seldom touches the land moving past. The river speeds around, it could flow into this room. You create a system of logic to explain how this is not really happening. It may seem obvious to those who hear these words- you, you, and you- but the unobvious portion rises, ascends. A museum was built on the site. Over it all, a great calm. It smells like the backbone of a fish. It smells like the evidence. I stood against one of the windows. There it goes. Bend into descent. You can almost hear things breathing, sucking in and out. Going outward only. The only need it has is to flow. To get away. Merge into the horizon on its way to a distance too far to imagine, world’s end. I am glad to see you, he said. I have been looking for you a very long time. He put a finger to his lip. In his other hand was a rifle. I stopped, turned, and looked back. Let’s go down there. He lays down in the yellow centerlines along the road. We are no longer on the shoreline, we are the shoreline. At first you think there’s nothing out there. Soon they were all around us in the water, eyes wide with fear. Fish have expressions. To breathe underwater. Walleye and pike. Descendents of fugitives. Calling for your help to remember who they are. Greeted long-unseen friends. Seeming to move as one organism. It brushed my leg. Incredible body language it speaks. Maybe it needs some water. Water, water! I halted. Became soaked to the skin. Some skulls still wear blindfolds tied on before execution. He came by again. Fish looks up, grins, but it’s a lesion on its lip. Tumor. Inward-curling. Say you’re sorry. Then it was gone. Disappearing among the underwater shadows. How many others were there. Up and down the big brown river. No one is denied entrance into this realm. And you know it; you have seen it. You want to make it make sense but it can’t. Floater trash. Rubbish. & other junk rusting away because we came here to forget who we had been. Neon orange styro balls. Beer cans. Tires. Refrigerator. Scrap metal wedged which would cut worse than a knife. Plastic toy boat right back to where it is now. Black-necked. Gathers in spirals in the eddies. The debris slides down. Everything is worn out or broken. Have and discard after the novelty has worn off. Water is there. In the empty spaces between things. A Barbie doll burned at a stake. Barely moving as she held her place against the current. The way he looked at her. She felt a feeling that she had been missing. Then she couldn’t remember why she would have been missing such a feeling. Slowly reeled it in, to get it out. Touch the face. You don’t forget anything you have seen. Scars running down it, leaving the skeleton, the surface glare, head bared to the skies a skullcap of light. This could be seen. Like a river’s body was being exposed. “Bang, you’re dead” he says, fires at the water then tossed it back. There are those of you who would ask why we would do such a thing. We are taking our bodies with us. The carbon in our cells. Nearly three-quarters of the earth is covered by water. Define the word river. The river holds silt & – it holds its hand out for you, it holds its hand.
Living by the Great Salt Lake, Cheyenne Nimes is a cross-genre writer currently working on poetry/nonfiction hybrids. Work is forthcoming in The Shell Game, an anthology on forms (University of Nebraska). Awarded the Edwin Ford Piper Scholar Award for Names for Water Bodies & Other Places the Water Fell: A Micro-history of American Rivers and the World Water Crisis, she was a University of Iowa Art Museum resident writer chosen by Eula Biss. Passing Through 90 Degrees, which garnered an NEA, received the Michael Rubin award from San Francisco State University. South Loop Review, Ninth Letter, DIAGRAM, Kenyon Review, etc. are recent homes, and work is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, Threadcount, interIrupture, & Anti-Heroin Chic.