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
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,
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.
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.