Make your own free website on Tripod.com
 
 
AT THE DAM
 
 

For the last few weeks it's been raining. 
The water at the dam almost runs level, 
rushing in a torrent from Kansas to Oklahoma, 
covering sandbars and lifting caught logs, 
taking them down river to snag elsewhere.

The worse thing about the rain is that 
it's harvest season. The towhead wheat, 
ready for combines-having lost its last green 
in the June sun-can absorb enough moisture 
to cut into margins most farmers can't afford,

and even worse the weatherman's map sweeps 
its clouds across the plains like a clown 
or a politician pursuing sound bites- 
heat and thunder and the illusion of relief 
from a downpour-when what's needed is more light.

Then from Texas to the Dakotas 
it clears. And whole states sigh, the wheat ripe, 
the combines ready for fields too wet before 
to get-to to harvest, and the farmers 
impatient with the scarcity of machines.

But when high water comes to the dam 
guys come from their houses and watching 
TV with their pregnant wives, to set 
trotlines or to cast a worm and sinker 
to the bottom for a catfish or carp,
a drum or whatever-down there all night 
or in the afternoon after work, even 
in morning for those out of a job and needing 
a big one to boast about or to make a meal. 
And I go down to the dam in the morning

to have a beer with the guys who just stand, 
keeping the talk going from one cluster 
of stories to another, or grappling 
a little to reestablish pecking order 
or just to release the tension from work,

for these guys are mostly employed, mostly 
working third shift. Some have brought their kids 
since this is the week they have custody. 
Others are on the outs with their woman 
or have found a new one who must pay her dues

by visiting with a mouthful of kisses-
hoping this new guy will take care of her kids, 
hoping this charge of new sex will work. 
And this is America, so you have 
the standard assortment-a Laotian

refugee with tatoos all over his body, 
who's the smallest but a definite kick 
in Tae Kwon Do, so he's left alone-
the biggest, a black guy, who's always invading 
the space of others-the Mexican-American

with his pigtail supporting two cultures-
and four or five white American Standards. 
And the cans go flying into the back 
of a pickup, and the stories go around, 
and time passes before sleep and another day

at the plastic factory making coolers 
for a middle class doctor in Atlanta-
or at the State Hospital so that a retired 
recorder of deeds with a yard full of flowers 
won't have to see the mentally retarded

or the oil field worker who pulls old pipe 
and replaces it with new so that we 
can compress the crude up, crack it, tank it, 
and pump it into the car of an art 
professor in North Carolina-

or the welder who works in the heat 
of huge drums, making mufflers that fit over 
the units for cooling entire skyscrapers, 
to keep a film editor at ABC 
in relative quiet in his noisy city.

And the wheat, when dry, travels all over 
the world in tankers to supply our former 
and present friends. From here on the plains, here 
in Kansas, in fields surrounding this town, 
the wheat is so hard, thick, and plentiful

with energy that we almost can feed 
ourselves and the world. Who in New York 
or Kiev or Kenya really knows this? 
Who among the guys down at the dam 
really gives a damn? The water chums

and gives the impression of cleaning things up. 
Its roar blocks everything out but watching 
the lines as they pull in the current. 
The beer goes down as it did the day before.
A laborer goes off to pour concrete in forms.

A grease gray finger gets cut by a hook. 
Someone pulls-in a thirty-six pounder. 
Someone gets another beer. On the other side 
of the river, in an undulating bend 
of the Walnut River, in a place cut off

by a small ridge of land, the Kickapoo 
kept their horses in a natural corral. 
Even then the catfish were running. 
Even then they smoked with their neighbors. 
Even then we depended on each other.
 
 


NEXT

HOME