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Cool Wide Silent Pools

    Not far from Karnak and Luxor, in Little Egypt, the Mississippi and Ohio open at Cairo, nearly embracing an entire continent, before carrying the silt and sand and waste from the Heartland south, past Memphis and its Pyramid, to New Orleans, the delta, the Gulf, and then the sea. Here, at this confluence from east and from west, the river is wider than at its delta. Broad. Pregnant. Gentle. The Army Corp built no dams below this point.

    When I should drive towards to Cairo, down the blue highway of Illinois Highway 57, through abandoned coal country with its flooded mines, I find a pit, an abandoned rock quarry, now full with cold, dark water. Cast into the still pool, a bus, a car, a truck, even a plane, the discarded debris from someone’s dreams, someone’s plans, someone’s forgotten life. Lost lives, hidden upon a map.

    But findable, for a fee. I paid the boatman’s fee.  I bore the tank upon my back, pressed the mask across my face, forced the regulator between my lips, then dove into the cold, wide, silent water, the dry suit clinging to me like memories, constricting, protective, a necessity I would, at some future time, discard.

Near the surface, the water is cold, dimly lit, then, at the thermocline, the temperature drops, the light fades, until I am lost, save for the lit markers others have set before me. I suck the dry air in. The sound of breath echoes through my skull and I hear the dull, coarse passing through my throat.

I read no histories. Booked no guides. None gave me counsel as I drifted among the metal wrecks suspended in the cold, silent water. Breath. Breath. As we do. Until, in time, I see, I touch what the cold, lightless water would have hidden from me.

Time expired. I let my body rise, then pause, then rise, then pause, until the surface, and the light, and the warm air. I drop the mask from my face. My eyes smart at the sunlight. The regulator drops and with a full inhale I absorb the clean humid summer air.

What is it I took as I climbed the rusting ladder to the rotting dock? That we cast our lives into cold, wide, silent pools, pools of fading light, pools of encroaching darkness. From that moment onward, I knew that memory is for fools.

Richard Stimac published over thirty poems in Burningword, Clackamas, december, Faultline, Havik (Second Place 2021 Poetry Contest), Michigan Quarterly Review, Mikrokosmos (Second Place 2022 Poetry Contest, judge A.E. Stallings), NOVUS, Penumbra, Salmon Creek Journal, Wraparound South, and others, flash in Paperbark and an article on Willa Cather in The Midwest Quarterly.

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