Look around. We’re all on a need- to- know basis Whenever I think of it, I swing by. Who knows what she’ll say or do. Today, the creek is meek, easily cros- sed in a bound; the next, roiling; then, skit- tering or teeming; still placid, a nar- row, svelte s, dashed on canvas to sug- gest calmness, quietude, a peaceful life Languid, latent in late sum- mer, we’re both slow movers Barely a buggy drainage ditch, but neon green bal- lroom dream for water striders; drinking hole for cautious four- leg- gers who leave canopy and cover to meet her; BMX and singletrack style points; a site for secret plans, strategies; a tranquil set- ting for long- delayed talks, laughter, touch, kiss, embrace; variety for sidestep- ping hikers— a chance to stabilize, picking through, with walking sticks— ensuring the bit- ter smell of sunbaked algae will not cling mosquito- bite tight and fol- low. Overhead, a dragonfly lopes then scoots. Photographers drop in, take what they need, slice back through the woods, arrow- eyed, looking for bonus, might- as- well shots, snatching them up like lost coins. You never know how things will turn out Sud- denly, she pitches in, retel- ling the old stories So excited, so relieved, amid so much change, to share her long days of youth, freedom, unobserved by guidelines, expectations, plans, protocols, deployments, deadlines— before finance, mapmakers, surveyors, builders, investors came and went through this afterthought town, perpetually up- and- coming latecomer, after perspective was lost, before experience could be pas- sed along or gained, quickly funded, expediently developed in response to demand spikes, last trainline tract built quickly among its neighbors, an enclave, an outpost, a fringe of renters, starters, and others living where we can— discon- nected from/ recon- nected to the city in new ways, by ger- rymander— in a val- ley, cool, sheltered bot- tomland, trap- ping ter- ritory, subdivided into pel- letized property, PEZ plots, songbird- abundant pass- through land, carefully skirted in native set- tlement maps [this poem was composed on land native tribes, including the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi, held in safekeeping until 1816], bound by the earlier, wiser, wealthier, higher. Old Mother gets big- ger, looming from within a hud- dled, captive audience Laying paral- lel all night, I leave before sunrise, locking the door behind me. Yet, I arrive to find myself trailing behind, having once again misgues- sed her moods, capabilities, having mis- sed points of change, cause- effect, wishing to please the unpleasable This is not the first time I have thought I was safe when I was not I have thought I was unsafe when I was safe. I do not know. I can- not tell. Although the staff gauge is regularly repainted, we long ago abandoned documenting or began covering waterline dates— though with so many recent 100- year storms we’d have to mark streets and sidewalks blocks away now, the creek having so far overtaken, outdistanced the bridge meant to span and track it Perhaps we all do have something to forget or hide Inside, we wait, reenacting normal, monitoring private then shared sentinel sites, low- lying areas where water gathers like a tale coming back to the tel- ler through the retel- ling, memory being the original trickster Each reflective surface presages another At night, we can- not see the broody pud- dles expand, the network advance We guess, each with our own mental gauges, fil- ling in accord with the too- near tap of rainfall, which sounds dif- ferent, calibrated individually within each home. No glint, no glim- mer, no shine in the shadows, though the level rises steadily, in unison, concealing earth’s variability with new uncertain depths Morning reveals glossy, uniform surfaces in one palette where before were limitless textures, shapes, colors of our personal interactions with habit, space Until now, with the water in motion, we couldn’t see how the earth was worn, shaped by her hands Old Mother’s desire paths grow, leaving her mark: a fur- row between yards, an imprint snaking beneath fence lines, slip- ping into garages and under siding, waterfal- ling over poured slabs— tracing the old route. Freshly, the earth feels her hands working the clay, compres- sing corners, crafting edges, pounding, pres- sing deeper all the sweet spots, confidently heeling in further than before, swol- len, sod- den, as clear run- off is replaced by a new opacity After a time, the creek may well catch a toe at the bend of the bridge, spraying, spil- ling, washing over mushrooms, soft and sturdy, a fairy ring, that flexes, sways in a pres- sure- burst- release cascade of sun- sparkle and foam Sometime later, she may hook a knee, looping to a resting squat, full of energy, before standing at full height in the steady swing that announces: The Show Has Begun Small fish greedily fol- low Old Mother’s angled, swirling trails. Occasionally, panfish are stranded, orphaned and pocketed, trying to make sense of a partial story from a loving, but forgetful, parent, gasping, gaping, their mouths tangled in another les- son Unsure who is more out of place, we eye one other on the perpendicular Out of bounds. The water is out of bounds. The creek jumps the bank. Those closest begin moving things (Just in case) to higher shelves, rol- ling rugs, carefully set- ting valuables on the steps up, warning others to be careful, laughing, reas- suring themselves against paranoia, trying not to alarm those who are not alarmed, considering whether more should be done, not wanting panic to invite destruction, left alone with self- recrimination and the renewed resolutions of someone who knows bet- ter— having eliminated then allowed wood, textiles, paper, electronics in this place that is ours but not ours, or ours but only temporarily, or ours on loan, during dry weeks only We do what we can, put- ting roots down to stretch out wherever pos- sible for this short life, dig- ging in, holding on with money from tomor- row’s pockets [as determined by underwriters]. Abruptly, we attune to the sadness of those who slept here before, tied by a com- mon clinging to should- be, masked by fear of losing what’s not yet taken. Who’ll be next? Who is downstream? Do they know? It is enough to make a strong man lie Old Mother loves to talk about Noah (An elaboration obviously more true because it’s so much bet- ter her way: Water sets the world spin- ning!) though Noah’s story was not about delight but hor- ror, obliteration A bub- ble then a drip. Sud- denly, a faint, unfamiliar stream and only slowly a quiet lap- ping that could be a small animal grooming or drinking, unquestioningly comforted by neces- sity’s routines of self- care There is often a lull before upstream water col- lides, gathers, mer- rily rushing forward like progress or How- you- been old friends, reunited by chance, pushing away Plan A, going in together, joining up tables, palming and pul- ling vacant two- tops, asking/ not asking for all the coat and purse chairs. Everyone makes way, moving aside or leaving, maybe grudgingly, maybe with more options or bet- ter plans anyway Some can or must adapt, match and embrace the spirit, staying on The rain slows or even stops. The sun peeks in. The dog always needs walking. One man goes out for his Bet- ter- be- double- bag- ged newspaper. Another opens a beer. A young couple wanders their now clean deck barefoot, wine glas- ses in hand, deciding whether/ when to open a fresh bot- tle An older couple sends the kids to the store. Others roam to expand the information radius by foot and by pad- dle or oar Tilted and tucked away for just this day, leaf- covered watercraft whisk out, push off, and glide from all directions This is before explosive violence, external concus- sion and a disar- ray that descends stairs before ascending them, switching back, like a rid- dle, a prank, a practical joke, while also locating new internal stairwells to climb— strad- dling both, a mir- ror- image dance, a race to the top at matched pace, a sloshy visual echo A mute effortles- sness cuts off the household’s rut- ted traf- fic pat- terns, severing daily bookend routes. An insubstantial substantiality fills the space, speaking quickly, clearly to the body, in no uncertain terms, with stop- ping force: Get out. You don’t belong here Old Mother has the floor Doors blow off hinges, sending knob and lockset to the opposite wall, revealing the futility of locks and doors. The water relocates to separate rooms the washer and dryer; the legs on the wash basin splay in the heave and tus- sle Once inside, Old Mother does not restrain curiosity— and sometimes just likes to stir the pot. Precisely, gently, she will turn objects stored in corners by 90 degrees, swal- lowing one shoe whole but toy- boating another Guiding from beneath a box through a wob- ble to a slow bob, as if reading contents before consumption or instructions before use, she mindles- sly replaces it on the same shelf, perhaps in favor of a healthier or faster option. Nah, she says Don’t need that The rain returns. The pause returns, mixing thoughts, feelings with no bearing on a changing situation or outcomes Rising floodwater is quiet, except during a change of direction or an expansion, when it reclaims a former position after a long time away In a house, it’s like water folding and unfolding, shaking it off, shaking it out, just starting over and refolding for a trim- mer fit in a reorganized area. It curls It crimps. Then, it sounds like applause, starting slow and ending slowly while a frog and cricket sing After the river has receded, after the stream recedes, amid the skid- ding, stained withdrawal of slow, spore- saturated silt, along the sludgy, belched- up banks appear things the creek has taken and combined with things tos- sed in on another day or decade, items discarded guiltily, accidentally lost, perhaps taken by surprise in spring sunshine— in addition to objects that must have required an accomplice, surely a two- person job Although, if pres- sed, Old Mother, who denies nothing and makes no promises, may just find her way around to admit- ting, nearly brag- ging, that she did it all herself! She sure could use a nice bench, a six- pack, a flowerpot— and why not take up smoking again at this point? What are you gonna do about it? Go on. Although she may break you if she can, can’t help but love her, but don’t expect her to thank you for it
The Native American, Anishinaabeg (Nishnaabe, Neshnabé) tribes listed—the Council of Three Fires, representing the Ojibweg (Chippewa), Odawak (Odawa), and Bodéwadmik (Potawatomi)—and the date shown are from Kircher, M. G., ed. Brookfield, Illinois: A History,1 in reference to the Treaty of St Louis (1816), 1 of 14 such treaties signed in the St Louis, Missouri, area.
The riverine flood described occurred on Salt Creek (the Little Des Plaines River), Brookfield, Cook County, IL (4th congressional district), US, as part of extensive regional flooding in the Chicago area on April 18–19, 2013, only a few years after the global financial crisis. Many local households that barely survived the manmade financial systems disaster were ruined by this natural disaster.2
Perhaps surprisingly, the hero of the story in this case was business interests. The insurance companies that carry Federal Emergency Management Agency flood protection policies sued the municipality (along with many others) for illegally storing water in people’s homes.3 Although the lawsuit was dropped,4 the willingness to act appeared to result in changes to federal flood mapping and improvements to the village’s mitigation efforts,5 despite inconsistent local cooperation in collaborative data-sharing and planning processes.6
Independent of community engagement and, relatedly, accurate property transfer disclosure data,7 eventually the land tells us about itself. This poem addresses a personal reckoning of this kind—along with the concept and challenges of ownership amid ongoing displacements8 that result from neglectful relationships toward nature and each other within larger, interconnected sets of often non-supportive human systems.
I believe this work will be of interest to others processing a flood experience, of which there are a great many within the United States9 and, sadly, elsewhere.10 It helps people to have our problems, experiences, and observations described when we are left wordless by climate trauma; we feel heard, understood, and better able to reclaim agency,11 regardless of whether we feel or ultimately take the opportunity to join one another to ‘rework ourselves’ within a fuller understanding of place and human community.12
- Brookfield, IL: Brookfield History Book Committee, 1994. [^]
- Uphues, B. (2013). One for the record books. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. April 23, 2013. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2013/04/23/one-for-the-record-books. Retrieved August 30, 2022; Uphues, B. (2013). Brookfield offers help for flood control. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. June 11, 2013. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2013/06/11/brookfield-offers-help-for-flood-control. Retrieved September 12, 2022; Uphues, B. (2014). Brookfield’s new building boom. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. January 28, 2014. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2014/01/28/brookfields-new-building-boom. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
- Ziezulewicz, G. (2014). Insurance co. sues Will County, 12 towns over flood damage. Chicago Tribune. April 29, 2014. Available at: https://www.chicagotribune.com/suburbs/ct-xpm-2014-04-29-ct-flooding-lawsuit-bolingbrook-plainfield-tl-0501-20140429-story.html. Retrieved August 31, 2022; Uphues, B. (2014). Insurance firm wants to recoup flood payouts. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. April 29, 2014. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2014/04/29/insurance-firm-wants-to-recoup-flood-payouts. Retrieved August 31, 2022. [^]
- Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. (2014). Illinois Farmers Insurance Co. v. Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. U.S. Climate Change Litigation database. Available at: http://climatecasechart.com/case/illinois-farmers-insurance-co-v-metropolitan-water-reclamation-district-of-greater-chicago. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
- Uphues, B. (201). Brookfield pump station a go for 2016. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. February 2, 2016. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2016/02/02/brookfield-pump-station-a-go-for-2016. Retrieved August 30, 2022; Uphues, B. (2021). Streets, basements flood after June 26 deluge. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. June 29, 2021. https://www.rblandmark.com/2021/06/29/streets-basements-flood-after-june-26-deluge. Retrieved September 12, 2022; Uphues, B. (2022). Brookfield to restart cost share for home flood-control systems. Riverside-Brookfield Landmark. March 22, 2022. Available at: https://www.rblandmark.com/2022/03/22/brookfield-to-restart-cost-share-for-home-flood-control-systems. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
- Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2014). 3.3.19 Brookfield, Village of Summary (CID 170066). In Flood Risk Report Des Plaines River Watershed, 07120004 (pp. 88–90). Available at: https://map1.msc.fema.gov/data/FRP/FRR_07120004_20150115.pdf?LOC=3219173ee3df4b922844accfe8904d3d. Retrieved August 30, 2022; Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning. (2018). Lower Salt Creek Watershed-based Plan. Available at: https://www2.illinois.gov/epa/topics/water-quality/watershed-management/watershed-based-planning/Documents/LowerSaltCrk_WatshdPlan_Dec2018_FINAL.pdf. Retrieved September 12, 2022; Cook County Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security. (2019). Cook County Multijurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan. Vol 2: Municipal Annexes: Brookfield Annex. Available at: https://cookcountyemergencymanagement.org/sites/default/files/images/Brookfield%20Annex%202019.pdf. Retrieved September 12, 2022. [^]
- Hersher, R. (2020). Living in harm’s way: why most flood risk is not disclosed. All Things Considered; National Public Radio. October 20, 2020. Available at: https://www.npr.org/2020/10/20/921132721/living-in-harms-way-why-most-flood-risk-is-not-disclosed. Retrieved September 13, 2022; Frank, T. (2021). Home sales need better disclosure of flood risk, experts say. Scientific American. February 2, 2021. Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/home-sales-need-better-disclosure-of-flood-risk-experts-say. Retrieved September 13, 2022; Natural Resources Defense Council. (2022). How states stack up on flood disclosure. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/flood-disclosure-map. Retrieved September 13, 2022; Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2022). Flood Risk Disclosure: Model State Requirements for Disclosing Flood Risk during Real Estate Transactions. Available at: https://www.fema.gov/sites/default/files/documents/fema_state-flood-risk-disclosure-best-practices_07142022.pdf. Retrieved September 13, 2022. [^]
- See note 2. [^]
- U.S. Geological Survey. (2022). Water resources of the United States: project alert postings. Available at: https://water.usgs.gov/alerts/index.html. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
- FloodList. Floods and flooding. Oderbruch, Germany, European Union. Available at: https://floodlist.com. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
- Illingworth, S. (2020). ‘This Bookmark Gauges the Depths of the Human’: How Poetry Can Help to Personalise Climate Change. Geoscience Communication, 3: 35–47. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5194/gc-3-35-2020. Retrieved August 30, 2022; Bentz, J. (2020). Learning about Climate Change in, with and through Art. Climatic Change, 162: 1595–1612. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-020-02804-4. Retrieved August 30, 2022; Carroll, R. (2005). Finding the Words to Say It: The Healing Power of Poetry. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2(2): 161–172. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/ecam/neh096. Retrieved September 1, 2022; Sima, R. (n.d.). More than words: why poetry is good for our health. International Arts + Mind Lab. Available at: https://www.artsandmindlab.org/more-than-words-why-poetry-is-good-for-our-health. Retrieved September 1, 2022; Srivastava, M. (2021). Can poetry heal collective trauma? Thesacredwell (blog). August 25, 2021. Available at: https://sacredwell.in/2021/08/25/can-poetry-heal-collective-trauma. Retrieved September 1, 2022; Ataga, J., & McNiece, Z. (n.d.). Poetic meaning-making: a new path to trauma work. NBCC Visions. Available at: https://www.nbcc.org/resources/nccs/newsletter/poetic-meaning-making. Retrieved September 1, 2022; Sax, A. (2019). Understanding trauma: the healing process of poetry. Kingsley & Kate Tufts Poetry (blog). March 5, 2019. Available at: https://arts.cgu.edu/tufts-poetry-awards/understanding-trauma-the-healing-process-of-poetry. Retrieved September 1, 2022. [^]
- Plumwood, V. (2007). A review of Deborah Bird Rose’s ‘Reports from a Wild Country: Ethics for Decolonisation.’ Australian Humanities Review. http://australianhumanitiesreview.org/2007/08/01/a-review-of-deborah-bird-roses-reports-from-a-wild-country-ethics-for-decolonisation. Retrieved August 30, 2022. [^]
The author has no competing interests to declare.