Holiday 2014 - THE POTOMAC

An Alternate History of the Flood

   Penelope Gristelfink

"Noah opened the window of the ark that he had made. Then he sent out a raven,
and it flew here and there until the water was dried up from the land." Genesis 8: 6-7

The night before he is summoned
to explain his role in the Deepwater Horizon
drill explosion, Tony Hayward is visited
on his hotel balcony by a raven who confesses
to a foreknowledge not contained in any
models of corporate risk or reformation.

She didn't disappear, she says, didn't forsake
her master on her journey
over the frontier of watery depths.
She resisted the wind as long as she could,
caught in her long, stinging inquiry
into disaster like a moth in a lampshade.
A zealous traveler, she didn't circle patiently,
waiting for pea shoots to tickle the mud
so she could sing Hallelujah like the dove,
whose home-grown loyalty and innocence
grafted it in legend to survival.
She was, she tells Hayward,
more relentless, more linear in her thoughts
and in her flight pattern.

She was also the first messenger
and, therefore, the one destined
to be sacrificed, unheard. She flew so far
she passed into the 21stcentury
where she saw the Gulf of Mexico: blitzed,
mangy, diarrheal with burning crude.
Only Milton had provided warning on the way—
"a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever burning Sulphur unconsumed"—
She was disoriented, she says,
fatigue clutching and gyrating
her senses. She thought it was sheol,
but from farther up, she chuckles,
it did at first look like Mardi Gras.

Turning grave again, she recalls the slurred forms
of Northern Gannet, Brown Pelican, Laughing Gull.
They were flogging themselves against slippery booms,
on rocks and steel debris. They looked like amputees trying
to swim, or the stumbling victims of mustard gas in the Argonne.
Their denatured, stunted attempts at flight
were to her a Morse spelling
the scarcity of God in this far future.

Even when they were dying, though, she says,
they didn't blink, and their eyes were clean,
the only clean parts—the oil didn't cover them.
As volunteers tried to grab and push them into tubs
and scrub them with dish detergent,
in their rescue/entrapment, they reminded her
of prisoners tarred and feathered,
which she also saw on the way there,
scores of people shaved-headed,
rolled in pitch like raw drumsticks in bread crumbs,
how the whites of their eyes in photographs
later broke open shoals of rebuke against
a form of torture with humiliation at the root.
She had to flee their flapping bodies
because of these clean, unblinking eyes,
she says. She couldn't answer them,
and she couldn't go back and tell of it.

She didn't have the heart to.

A tear leaks out over Hayward's blank face.
The raven stretches a black wing to his cheek,
but he flinches and shrinks from it as if it's
a sudden swipe of greasefire.

Then why are you telling me this? he asks
pleadingly, like an assaulted,
outnumbered schoolboy in a turf fight.

I'm sorry; I shouldn't have come, the raven says.
It's just that you were always like a brother to me.


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