Southern Illinois, Summer 1970

Elliott batTzedek

Coffee tins filled with small stones,
carried by small hands from road side
to the ditch’s trickling stream, water
washed from cow pasture, hay field.

Each load dumped onto a rough dam.
She lays a handful of stone, he adds
a handful of mud, and then
the surprise—water, held, gets wider
and deeper. They confer. He braces
their construction, she runs
to Grandpa’s barn for hay.

The second dam they start with sticks.
For the third, they lay rough
and sticky clusters of blacktop tar.
After each hard summer rain
they begin again, trying feathers,
ribbon, rope, handfuls of pony hair,
broken cups, bricks, silverware.

They call their dams rice paddies

Over supper Walter Cronkite talks
and talks and the parents talk
and the girl, 7, and the boy, 6,
have already learned
not to ask questions.

They’ve never seen rice,
but the tv shows our boys
in water up to their waists
holding their arms straight up,
rifles balancing between their hands.

Dick and Jane say Look! Look!
but never look at tv or at
the dam that holds the longest,
the one with three wooden posts,
bricks, straw, rocks,
five plastic bags, and
three kneesocks.

“Southern Illinois, Summer 1970” was previously published in The Lake Rises: Poems To and For Our Bodies of Water by Stockport Flats, October 2013

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