Blackbirdan online journal of literature and the artsSpring 2022  Vol.21  No. 1
an online journal of literature and the arts
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Lake Chatcolet
August 2021

My father wants me to stop calling it the apocalypse, the air all moneyed the color of pennies in a dirty fountain, both of us trying to catch our breath. If this were a nightmare, coarse-grained sandpaper would have gritted out the clouds, the sky, the lake. This is August in the inland West. Smoke meshes everything like a window screen inside a window screen inside dirty glass. My swimming arms, my father in a kayak he’s learning to row, turning like a man in a slow-motion whirlpool. The fires are states away, invisible. The AQI scorches up: red to purple to maroon like a ladder to the center of the sun. The dogs on shore are going apeshit for floating sticks. Call it oxygen deprivation: my fear they’ll swim out in the lake and bite me. My father says, You’re too far away. But who can tell distance now? Aren’t I bleary-eyed, bobbing like a chew toy? The lakefloor mud is toxic with heavy metals, waiting to rise with one bad algae bloom. It’s common knowledge. It’s Wash Your Pets and Feet signs. To call the lake the Superfund it is would make the waterfront property less valuable. If blue is big enough for a Dutch man’s britches, I learned as a child, rain will blow over. There’s not a speck of rain nor blue to see. Call it oxygen deprivation: the puffy clouds I’m missing: not a memory of sky but those 1990s cotton t-shirt sheets, a summer-camp fantasy of sleep rolled in its own little tote bag. Remember carrying the sky in your arms? Sleeping peacefully? I don’t say because my father never went to camp, grew up in foster care in the 1950s, fearing TV people trapped inside an iron lung: white metal tube of isolation like a nowhere spaceship. He’d say we’re lucky to be here at all. Is saying it. The apocalypse is Revelations mumbojumbojust because things are changing doesn’t mean it’s the end. Everywhere, orange-grey ash light unhorizons us. Is there some saying like If the future is big enough for? The dogs are barking; their people are standing on a new treated dock that most days ends in pretty water. I’m swimming through mine tailings, or will be, once the chemistry tilts just so. A whole lake can backflip. A sky can vanish, has vanished. It’s just shorthand, I try to tell him, dog-paddling, eye-stinging. But he’s already facing away again. He keeps turning circles because he’s never rowed a kayak. He wants to stay close beside me because he was an abandoned child; because he loves me. He’s not denying science. He’s row row rowing like that song he used to sing me, this scenic Superfund site on fire, in a little inflatable boat.  

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