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Grey Sparrow Journal and Press, as of January 31, 2018 will move to

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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[On the Mississippi,] Seth Eastman

Chirps from the Sparrow

          The Mississippi River carries me back to younger days when I catch butterflies and fish for trout.  This day we go swimming by the dam—yes, I am twelve.


          Beth: my friend has long, flowing black hair and wears a low-slung, pink-checkered bikini.  I’m wearing a light blue one, not as steamy. The tiny dam is appealing—jumping off the cement reservoir with the fast current below.  The swirling water drags our bodies towards the grating. Bravely, I counterbalance the pressure, pulling free, again and again, rising to the surface. None of us tire of this dance, immortality rests on our shoulders. The sun is searing and warms the rippled water on the surface to a tepid tea. My brother joins us, splashing, wildly, laughing.  He flirts with Beth. We’re all friends knowing each other’s intimate secrets.


          Dad finds us by the dam to call us in for dinner and yells, "Get out of there.  How many times have I told you not to swim by the dam?"


          "We’re okay," I say.


          "Yeah," Paul says. "Why do you worry so much?"


          "Out, now. It’s not safe. I don’t want you swimming by the dam again.  Mom has dinner.  Come on, time to go."


          I grab the cement edge that juts above the water, hoisting myself up with disappointment, feeling the hot cement beneath as I sit down catching my breath.  My brother and Beth follow.


          "One last jump." Beth stands and winks.


          "No more. Time to come in," Dad insists again.


          Slender, with wet hair glistening in the sun, Beth draws her two hands above her head pressing them together, performing a dive that soundlessly shatters my memory. I wait for her head to bob up. I wait and I wait.  Then, Dad’s abrupt movements distract me. He runs and jumps in the water, yes, he runs, and disappears below the surface. My brother is jumping in too. I race around the small bridge and enter the silvery liquid from the shore. All of us, legs flailing, search. The water is cooler a few feet below, pristine, sunlight streaming though, diminishing into the depths. Specks of algae sift through eddies.   The seaweed is buffeted back and forth. I can’t find Beth. I can’t see Daddy or Paul. ‘Need air,’ I think, ‘need air now, must get to the surface.’ Seaweed brushes my face, terrifying me, forcing me to close my eyes.  I rise, gulp air, and dive down into the water again, shaking. The pull of the current towards the grating is strong. It’s easy to stay below the surface now, as I edge towards the forbidden barrier. It is why I always stay away from this grating. 


          The current will overpower me.

          Then, I realize, Beth is frantic, strung across the honey-combed metal. Her eyes meet mine—head shaking as bubbles escape and rise to the surface. Her hair is tangled in the grating. Daddy is fighting the current, pulling at the tangled mess. Finally, with one hard tug he yanks it free as I watch him fight the current, carrying her to air.   All our heads pop up together.   She is still conscious. Beth is gasping—coughing as Daddy pulls her from the water’s edge. Now she’s shaking violently as he grabs a towel and puts it round her shoulders.


          At this moment, I know I have witnessed Beth’s dance of death and Daddy’s dance of life, the dance of my danseur noble.


          Lanky elm trees cast long shadows as the summer afternoon slips away.  My father’s lesson comes back to me.  "Take care of the living first," as our summer issue of Grey Sparrow Journal emerges from the cool water below.