Introduction

Suddenly a river and spreading feathers.

Suddenly a quiver and a rush. Suddenly a river and a sliding log with a green leaf and an underwater shooting shadow. Suddenly a slant and a groove and a brown flow and soaring splotches of brown and white with a wingspan and a caw. A splash-landing and a wiggling. A landing and a struggle. Snatched flesh and a fin sending ripples.

A silver death.

Diamond scales in the sky.

Creased claws, brown water with green tints darkened from droplets of red.

The river groans on. Its current sucks blood to the bottom, applies a fresh coat of slime to river rocks.

In the distance: indifference. A star burns and mutters orange nothings to the earth, so blemished and covered in great mounds of plastic, and the eagle, a bald and feeble descendant of piasa: paillissa: páyiihsa, that legend, that winged beast with a man’s face, a tiger’s beard, a deer’s antlers, a long tail, and red eyes.  

The sun smolders, and the ashes of nightfall descend. Midwest sunset.

A snake made of water the length of a country stretches in the sun. Lakes and tributaries feed the greedy beast. Sometimes it shrivels; this year it swells. And swells and swells, swells and rises, rises and stinks. In places it slithers over dams, squeezes through levees, coils into the ocean.

In this place it bends and hugs the land. It always has. In this place it swallows a road and licks the bluff. Above the snake and the fallen rocks, level with a shady lot of gray(ve) stones, bold letters and a chipped, tattered wooden greeting:

WELCOME TO ELIJAH P. LOVEJOY MEMORIAL CEMETERY
PIASA HEIGHTS, ILLINOIS

Welcome, welcome, one and all, to the boozy city of sleep and savings.

Those in the past banked on the present and yearned for the future. They smelled the oil and metal of industry and hoped for coffee and white dress shirts. The offices didn’t open, and factories closed.

Today they smell river scum and yearn for the past as they open the dollar store’s double doors. 

And as the eagle, the muck, the sludge, the water table, the logs rise, so should the old men from their recliners, the children from desks, the homeless from street benches, the single mothers from breastfeeding, the midnight laborers from slumber.

Dust the sour cream and onion shards off your slacks, o couch potatoes!

Quit doodling daisies and slam shut your notebooks, o public school disciples!

Cast aside those brown bag beers and march with your shopping carts, nomads of the streets!

Wipe off your bosoms, o noble nurturers!

Shit, shower, and shave, o blue collar night owls!

Rise with the river, the snake, the eagle, the snaking, swelling river, for the flood bursts open the gates of afterlife inmates who rise now and offer stories of passion and regret, of building and shattering, of work and war, of master and mastered, of accidents and betrayals. Dance, shimmy-shuffle-groove your way to the Lovejoy Cemetery, named after that Piasa Heights martyr, the righteous writing preacher man, whose press drowned in the Mississippi at the hands of angry bigots. Listen closely, listen. The spirits’ clicking whispers echo from bare tree branches.

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