At The Mellen Township Board Meeting

It’s the melancholy tail end of summer,

a Wednesday night with waning light

when I walk into the basement meeting room of the fire department

on County Road 342.

It smells like 50 years of bureaucracy and a musty bathroom

and my claustrophobia tells me there is only one exit

but I sign my name with the pen of the man in line behind me

who’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt

and sit in one of the 18 metal folding chairs

while the clock ticks toward six.

The board, three women and two men,

(one with white hair under his Air Force baseball cap)

approves the last meeting minutes, discusses bills to be paid, and then

opens the floor for public comment

on the mine corporation’s proposal

to trade grant writing services

for an irrevocable promise

never to oppose the mine,

a gaping hole waiting for cyanide and sulfide

to distill particles of gold, silver, zinc

100 feet from the river.

One by one, they speak:

The grandmother who speaks of her grandchildren,

the volunteer fire fighter,

the Menominee sisters who speak of breastfeeding from the earth,

the man from Flint who speaks of broken promises and bottled water.

I speak too, not just of lost beauty but what I hope is

their language:

tourism dollars, lost property taxes, lost opportunity.

I don’t live in Mellen township, but my heart is here on the river, I say, finally.

I hear the end of my sentence turn up at the end,

and stop.

Sandy, Fran, Bonnie, Holly, Tom sit stone faced, listening.

And then when we are all finally done, they say:

We live here, too.  We represent you.  We don’t want this mine. We have grandchildren.

We told the mine “no.”

And we all applaud.

Giddy from relief, we all stay for the rest of the meeting:

The fire department reports two water rescues on the river, accidents on Highway 41,

EMS services at the fair.

The Park is up next:

The Special Olympics is using the bocce court for practice.

Someone dumped recliners but after Tom posted a $100 reward for violators (out of his own pocket) in the paper, they were taken away.

The park needs more mulch – the kind that’s finely ground.  There’s a low spot in the yard.  Terry has a Bobcat, he can fill it in this fall and spread some grass seed.

The push lawnmower died and they bought a new one at Paidl’s Hardware.

Everyone nods.

It’s 6:55.  They call it.

We walk into the parking lot in the golden evening,

thinly spread across the fields and wilds behind the fire department,

the Wallace Pub where Judy cracks another Bush light for Rick,

the ruins of the church on the corner,

Gary’s grocery store.

There are men in DC who see only things you can buy or sell,

who would treat with contempt this gathering.

But this night I saw in this world

that is slowly ripping apart at the seams

people who are holding carefully

some borrowed needle and thread,

stitching together what they can,

and that was enough.

Fighting with My Brother the River

My big brother is not like a river, ever-changing, moody,

bringing you along in his current –

he is a river,

the Menominee, and despite his full-time job

keeping Wisconsin and Michigan in their places,

he has also pulled and tangled my hair,

has stolen my towels, sunglasses, one

cell phone, several shirts, flip-flops,

and rarely gives any of them

back without a fight;

he has lifted me up

while i float on my back

moving ever-eastward, southward,

arms crossed behind my head as I

watch white clouds shapeshift

against a cobalt sky.

My brother the river

despite meeting me when I was only four

has tried to kill me, more than once,

dumping me out of a raft in his angry rapids,

pulling me under,

one time pinning me underwater

between a runaway dock and shifting mud,

leaving my forehead scarred and a leech on my ankle

for good measure.

Try to explain that to the nurse.

Seven stitches, no lie.

He is funny, my brother.

He has borne me down

his current on more rafts

than i can count, held me

every summer since 1974 while I

explored the shadowed underworld

with a mask to my face, collecting

clam shells

or had somersault contests with the neighbor kids

who made up my universe until my lungs nearly burst,

Matt, Beth, Colleen, and me all coming up for air

in great gulping gasps.

I held my Snoopy fishing pole

over the side of the boat

I shared with my dad,

listened from below the surface

as my mother called me in for dinner as I pleaded for

just five more minutes;

My brother has sometimes taken a drink of my beverage

or spit into it to claim it for himself –

he has gouged my shins with rocks

has sliced my family’s feet with empty clam shells,

has teased me with snapping turtles –

But, sorry, he shows me

bald eagles, herons,

sturgeons lazily nosing their way along the shore, unafraid;

painted turtles, otters, kingfishers,

raccoons,

and the occasional fox –

I’ve seen deer swim across, and pine snakes,

thin slow slender white snakes in cold fast spring water,

we’ve caught bass, walleye, minnows, more fish

than i can count; have had crayfish

cling to our shorts

like bad habits –

He is patient, my brother

I am older now,

I’ve given my brother the river some of

the ashes of my son,

and some ashes of the man who sold us our cabin and land

(though, overcome, before signing he

pushed the deed away, stood and looked out the window, wiped his silent tears –

My brother the river was this man’s brother, too.)

I haven’t always been

a great sibling, I’ve spilled these things on him,

not on purpose,

but still:

sunscreen, beer, soda, mosquito spray, Doritos, magazines, chairs, part of a dock –

he’s borne it all,

washed all of it away;

And now

my brother the river

doesn’t know he is threatened –

a new neighbor with flush pockets and a keen eye

for silver and gold hidden in the fast folds

of the earth

wants to open a wound, gouge the soil,

bathe those precious metals

in caustic chemicals along my brother’s fragile banks

though he solemnly avows no harm –

and I don’t know how to warn him, my brother, to pack up his currents and move far away, so he doesn’t burn

orange like Colorado’s Animas, so his fish don’t turn over and float into Lake Michigan

like apologies too late;

I don’t have his number,

my brother the river

so instead

I write this to tell him how much I love him

and that i will stand on this playground

and try to fight this bully who comes

with soothing statistics and smooth

promises of jobs and safety,

who will someday walk away

with only profit –

I will try to fight

though i have no weapons

but words.