Swimming With Carp

Dead Carp, Creative Commons, 2013

Dead Carp, Creative Commons, 2013

The old river called Kipikawi flowed through the part of the city where I grew up.

Mud-based and weaved by banks of intricate roots, the riverbed carried in its memory the currents of the Winnebago.

 

In time these indigenous currents were followed by changing currents of Germans, and Danish, and Polish and Italians.

A colonialized current was nonetheless a continuing part of a flowing narrative

of lives

of those who swam along the banks

of those whose unsettled corpses were carried away by it.

 

In my childhood, the arrowheads were all gone, already picked away.

The sediment along the bottom of the river was so oily

that you’d never know there was an oil shortage in the 1970’s.

The swirling film of inconsequence clung to the surface of turbulent currents.

 

In summer, carp and salmon and catfish too tainted to eat gasped for air in the shallows.

The trout eventually disappeared.

 

The exposed roots of trees and undergrowth along the banks spilled into the water

injecting it with the pollution of a war in Vietnam,

amphetamine hopes

and mosquito repellant.

 

Crabs tugged at broken glass from the floor littered with discarded liquor bottles.

They were blankets of protection from fish riots.

 

Bobbing styrofoam Big Mac containers were cruise ships for scavenging horseflies chomping at the tasteless casing and leftover lettuce rotting in special sauce.

 

Each day this river that fed into the great lake changed currents with the lake tides forcing the toxins we thought were washed from the inner city to return like a backed up septic tank, atop the layers of the toxic sediment already there,

threatening us to put up or get out

as we suffocated like the carp.

 

In fall a weary current would pass us collecting dead branches,

and flattened kickballs

and dismembered cheap Barbie rip-offs

and picnic tables singing Tell Me Something Good.

 

In winter, the current stopped when the river froze over.

We could breathe again skating with the carp that swam underneath our ice skates.

For a time, roots were frozen in ice.

There was a still life in the dead of winter.

 

In spring, the current returned overflowing banks and drowning roots.

Under a nearby bridge, the river carried away the secret remains of childbirth.

Proud Mary hoped her baby knew how to swim with the carp.

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