Tuesday, May 03, 2011

i'm not an expert on any of this stuff, because mostly i just write these huge quizzes and vocabulary exercises, and my students, many of whom are saudis, ask me what the heck is going on with the u.s. and bin laden, and what do i know? i don't watch the news, i'm not on the media, even facebook is confused because i haven't been on there for a day or two, so it can't find much beyond the first page. it's been raining and raining here, to the point that lots of people have to go 'round, just to get to their own car, or get to the store, or get wherever they need to go. you look just off the road at the rising water and everything looks so soggy, like all kinds of crops might be ruined. but the big news of course is down at cairo (pronounced karo), about seventy miles south, and the deepest south part of illinois, so far south, it's south even of paducah and half the places in kentucky.

and down there they have what is known as bird's point levee, cairo-new madrid, and a plan which was they were to blow it up if the water got over 61 feet, which the water did, and they did, they blew it up, blew a hole in it, and the water flooded all this farmland in missouri but they were hoping that further upstream, in cairo and in towns in illinois and kentucky and indiana, it would relieve some of the pressure and give the water somewhere to go.

the town of cairo is legendary in southern illinois, and it's amazing that i've never been there even after seventeen years here, but i've heard plenty of stories, as has everyone. it was a big city once, and could have been bigger, being at a major confluence of the ohio and mississippi, but that honor was given to st. louis as cairo faded into the river and its frequent lowland-flooding problems. it's down to only 3000 souls now, down to 1/5 of what it used to be, and even those folks are gone now, having been evacuated by the flood. stories are told of how trees grow right up through old houses in cairo; from here, it seems like the place seems to take whatever the rest of the state can give; academics go down there, do studies, and get mired in the hopelessness of the situation, never to return or write anything again. a songwriter did that too; made a good cd, but then i never heard his name again.

anyway it had the possibility of a racial issue, with cairo being predominantly black and the farmers on the other side predominantly white, but everyone kept their cool and the corps knew they had to blow the bird's point after it topped 61 anyway and just did it without looking back, so now a large swell is heading down the river toward new orleans, and taking lots of topsoil and history with it. meanwhile the rest of the world is bonkers about bin laden and my students are saying, why are people dancing in the street, or reacting about some bizarre thing they may have seen on tv or on the internet. with grim fascination they see the racism of the u.s. play out in a kind of sad and pitiful dance since the guy is, after all, very dead, and we've spent what, 500 billion now to the point that we're arguing whether to pay our teachers, or keep playing football, and started three pointless wars on his behalf. so yes, i guess these students would be a bit confused, but i didn't have time to straighten them out. and as i began the tornado warning went off, though it was just your tuesday morning test-siren, but they said oh yeah, what was that with the airport, and with 400 dead here and there and the worst tornado season ever...? turns out they're a little shook up about this tornado deal too though it's partly because, being from saudi and all, they don't know a tornado from a crack of thunder and a constant hard rain that never goes away, just keeps overflowing the gutters and giving you something to play banjo under. lots of cracks of thunder these days, lots of hard constant rain, coming up from the bootheel, filling up the curbsides.

i said yeah, we're a little worried about the weather too; more and worse tornadoes this year than ever, and they're all staying south, which is why so many people die, because they're not used to them, and don't know to find shelter fast, when they get the warning. or, they don't get the warning. or, they have no shelter. i won't look at pictures of trashed out towns or trailer parks, don't want pictures of bin laden either, or pictures of cairo, or flood inundating 100,000 acres of missouri farmland.

instead i look at pictures of louis sockalexis, famous penobscot indian guy who took baseball by storm in 1897, his rookie year and only year, when he ended up on the cleveland spiders baseball team, tore up the league, but fell victim to alcoholism and never returned after that. he was such a sensation, and the nation was so wrapped up in him, that the team became known as the indians from then on, not, because there were ever any other indians in the cleveland area. books were written about him, though i haven't read them. the indians are hot this year; they've won quite a few in a row; to me it brings up this sockalexis dude just on principle. you'd say, this team is doomed; it has a small market; cleveland can't handle a winner; the ghost of sockalexis will haunt the place forever and something will happen. but no, hope is eternal, it may have been a bright burning fire only once or twice, a few short seasons, a time people only talk about, but no longer remember; it may be deep in the folds of history, but history will not be forgotten. we will survive, we will be back; when the rivers go down, and the sun comes back, there will be daylight again, and the rains will pass, so will the water, breaching the bird's point and shooting down the great muddy river. there are more stories; you'll hear a few now. some have to do with where water chooses to go, on its relentless way down to lower spots. i guess, for the moment, i don't really want to know.


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