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  • Inhabiting the Damp Impervious
  • Laura-Gray Street

—Charles Darwin, The Voyage of the Beagle

Out of the kayak, I sink to the anklesin ooze. For a moment my feetwon't budge. I have to think,

I'm not being swallowed. But I amshackled. It's not a bad place for it,these clay banks with kingfishers

chattering, eastern sliders sunningon tree snags. In fact, it could be niceto root here by the river, linked

to cycles of day, season, year,petrifying into scenery. Nothingvocal or belligerent. Just weather

and chemical interaction.The truth is, I've become fondof the tank car in the river,

flood debris squatting offshore,two decades safety hazard, eyesore,railroad renegade. I can't help seeing

a creature there, if only the creatureof industry. Maybe it's the quaintproclamation stenciled

on the barrel-chested drum:"PURE SWEET MOLASSES."I have to admire the bravado,

this hollow gong, contents longgone in a plume of drainage. Still,what sweetness given to fish, [End Page 72]

along with chemicals and petroleumbyproducts. At last, the necessaryoffices and departments have conferred:

tomorrow the tank car will be salvaged.The fish, nobody asked them.We think fish have nothing to say

about projects or molasses, althoughsome trains can articulate, if by that wemean bend. Is that what we are

then? The species with the articulatetongue? A limb freakishly double-jointedin ways useless for catching flies or

finding our way or cleaning ourselvesor our young. But a taste for sweetnessis shared by many creatures, including

all hominids. A menagerie cravingthat first sugary tear at the seams,the tank giving out, then giving

way to nonnegotiable forces—birth, berth, dearth, death, allspurious fluids; now to be

cranked up by crane, wrenchedfrom river muck, come to an endagain. Steel intention reduced

to sluice—but surprisingly littlerust, you see, because molassesis a chelating agent. Dearly

Beloved, only in viscosityshall we comprehend what isresurrected, what is preserved. [End Page 73]

Laura-Gray Street
Randolph College


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