Two Stories
Ross Gay & Richard Wehrenberg

from RIVER


One of the many tributaries to this river seemed to have its origin right next to the apartments, in the slice of forest between the road encircling Middletown Trace and I-95. As so many of the creeks in this area, they seemed to be as much sludge as water. This was called the crick, and was an easy place to catch salamanders and crayfish snugged beneath rocks in the rusty water. More often than not, the hill to the woods would be strewn with old refrigerators or washing machines, maybe carpets or the flaky foam padding beneath. Some of these might tumble all the way to the creek, where we’d stand on top and make declarations or pretend to spot land in the distance. Or after New Year’s there’d be a couple hundred Christmas trees chucked into the woods, many still shimmering with tinsel or ornaments—we’d leap off the hill onto these trees, which were like a gigantic, fragrant, mattress.

Steven B., the deaf kid who smelled like his dad’s cigars, built a tree house in the crotch of a spindly tree pushing up out of a field of skunk cabbage. Pieces of 2×4 were nailed into the tree for a ladder, and the wood of the fort was mostly unsecured, just laid down. Someone had stolen his dad’s Playboy’s, and they were tossed haphazard in the corner. From the fort we could see I-95, the trucks, some of them, on their way to Florida. If we looked the other way we could see the tennis courts with no nets, and right next to them an apartment building. We could also see no fewer than four storm drains that emptied into these woods, the corrugated steel pipes jutting out from spray-painted slabs of concrete, and that during a rain made this creek run. And beneath us the crick mostly standing still, winding through the brambles and cast-off machines. As we all peed into the crick from the fort, Steven B. told us in sign language and grunts that it emptied into the ocean.

One night we were in those woods—I’m not sure why, except that it gets dark early in the winter—and we watched as a girl from the neighborhood was discovered living in the basement of the maintenance storage shed that we called the Brown House.  I can see the police lights flashing and the people from the nearby buildings milling around to see.  Her body looks twelve in her white nightgown, but her face looks much older beneath the streetlight.  I think something terrible was happening.




I’m sitting with my legs crossed on Standing Rock after one of many Food Not Bombs servings in Kent. Lisa and I’s husky mix, Tikaani, wades from across the bank through the brown water of the Cuyahoga to join me on the husk of rock that looks like it is permanently entrenched in the middle of the river. It’s a shivery kind of cold, but not quite truly winter. I’m flicking ash from a smoke haphazardly. I think how it’s October, maybe November. I don’t really know. Try to remember. All the Octobers and Novembers I’ve been encapsulated by, the rock in the middle of this river, the names for demarcations of time, my learned attachment to these names, my obfuscated memories of the things that happened in those names for time. I snap out of my head. Tikaani shakes river phlegm onto me & opens his mouth, panting/smiling. Pulling back into a Now. I can’t remember why I came out here, but I listen for a while and then wade back across the river and walk into town. I am aware of a sonorous mass called world.