The last time I saw Craig, I was curled against the spare tire in the trunk of his mom’s car. He was reaching up to close the trunk. I saw a belt loop, the side of his jeans. “No!” he yelled, then he slammed the lid. That was on a Monday. It was late July. July 23rd. Three weeks later—Monday, August 13, 1973—around five in the afternoon, Craig drowned in the floodwater of the creek that runs behind the house that I grew up in. Wading and swimming with five other boys, Craig was swept into a culvert. He was fourteen years old. The funeral was on Thursday. A warm August morning, the summer between eighth and ninth grade. I rode my bike.
From the Davenport Times-Democrat, from Tuesday, August 14, 1973, I learn:
- Except for Craig, none of the boys I had pictured were there.
- Five boys, wading and swimming with Craig in the creek.
- A storm dumped an inch of rain in 45 minutes late Monday afternoon.
- The emergency call came at 5:27pm.
- A little after 7pm, Craig’s body was found.
By then, the rain had stopped. 30th Street and 31st Avenue were drenched with runoff, and the clouds were breaking. The air was soft. A soft summer evening. Neighborhood kids had come out. Some pedaled down to see what was happening.
“A 14-year-old youth drowned Monday night in a rain-swollen drainage ditch in Rock Island,” the Times-Democrat says. (It’s not a “ditch.”) “The youth was swept into a four-foot storm drain opening by rushing waters at the bottom of the ditch. The ditch is reportedly a favorite swimming and wading spot for area youngsters.” (Not a “ditch.”) “Police said the group of youths had gone into the drainage ditch at a point just northeast of St. James Lutheran Church. Police said at one point in the ditch, water measured at least eight feet deep.”
After a few minutes of stunned shock, one boy ran to a nearby house for help and the other boys hustled across 31stAvenue. They slid down the embankment hoping to see Craig on the other side. Rock Island patrolman, Leo Ford, was first on the scene. From where they stood gaping at the water, the boys waved to him. With a rope from the patrol car, Ford scrambled down through the weeds. Rain still falling. Cars wiping slick tracks of sound off wet pavement. Thunder rumbled. A siren climbed the 30th Street hill.
Ford tied one end of the rope around his waist. He gave the other end to the boys and told them to hold on. He waded out into the water. Rain splashed up everywhere on the muddy surface and the wet got in his eyes. The woods echoed the rush of runoff everywhere. Ford stepped deeper, feeling his way, close to the edge where the creek’s bank, deeply submerged, sheared away in a rush of current. He lurched when he found it, almost falling. Then he slid in, yelling, “Hold on!” Suddenly up to his chest, he struggled for his footing. The smell of the floodwater, like old drain pipes and mud and sticks and deep damp cellars, filled his lungs. To his right, a few yards upstream, the opening of the culvert, the top curve of the O of corrugated pipe stubbed into the base of the embankment, just visible in the outrush. Ford leaned into the current, inching upstream. Reaching low under the water, he tried to find Craig at the culvert opening, but he slipped, catching himself. Pushing again into the current, he slid his foot another step, but the bottom disappeared, the boys felt the rope jump, and Ford yelled again, sharply, as he spun off his feet. The boys grunted. Ford pumped his legs and arms, crawling to catch the bank of the creek. Wrapping his grip on streamers of grass, he lunged, hauling himself up, crawled another two yards, then stood up. Bending, hands on his knees, he breathed hard, then wiped his eyes, then looked around.
In the whole time since Craig’s funeral, when I rode my five-speed past Beth Heming’s house and Jim Eagle’s and DeeDee Beaudry’s and Belinda Lawhorn’s to St. Pius, and walked in with what seemed like most of the rising 9th-grade class from Washington Junior High School, I’d had in my head two details, details, as it turned out, I had essentially made up, invented, now I think, out of next to nothing, out of trying to picture what had happened, and trying to make that make sense. One detail was that the water rose almost to the top of the culvert, which meant that Craig, riding low in the water, could have slid into the gap. The other detail was I always pictured that Craig had seen the culvert as he floated toward it, and that he had turned and looked back, and that he had smiled. “Watch this,” I imagined him saying. These details, like names of the boys I thought were with him, were wrong.
On the Wednesday before the Rock Island (Illinois) High School Class of 1977 40th reunion, alone, I went for the first time in many years to see a rock concert. I’d been to one reunion before, my fifth-year, and I hadn’t been interested in going back for any of the others since then. Still, something was pulling me. Related, partly, to social media. Connecting with my classmates and childhood friends had become a million times easier. In virtual space, geographical space seemed to dissolve. Also, 40 years seemed portentous, practically Biblical. Since the concert fell on the night before I would depart for the reunion, going to the show became part of the trip, the first step in the ritual of return. Only, on the very first leg of the journey back, I got lost. The concert was out at a music venue in Summit County, twenty miles south of Cleveland, and on the way out there, I got lost. I was following GPS directions, but, as with so many mistakes I only figure out later, I had shifted accidentally a setting on my phone, switching my directions from traveling by car to walking. For sure, the directions seemed off. Especially the timing: four hours to destination? Yet down the wrong-way route, farther and farther from the six-lane freeway that I knew to be the way, I persisted.
Gnats and no-see-ums in your eyes, and mosquitos. And the smell, there is a green smell, a mud smell, a cold smell comes off the creek when it floods in the woods, a sweet smell, chilly, a rank smell, like damp cellars, clammy, like storms and cold run-off gushing through drains. A friend I knew who lived on that block by the creek where Craig’s body was recovered says Bret Winger found him first. That’s not in the newspaper. Neither is this. Bret found him, my friend says, and Bret was never the same, because of how it was. They scrambled, carrying Craig. He was wrapped in a blanket. At the top of the steep ravine, they lifted him over the guardrail, bundled him into the back of an ambulance. My friend had been out, riding around. She saw emergency vehicles, people, including two or three boys from the neighborhood—Bret, and some friends from school—milling at the top of the ravine. Straddling her bike, she wanted to believe when, swinging the doors closed, the man in the ambulance said Craig was just short of breath. This also isn’t in the Times-Democrat story: Craig looked back. Following behind him, the boys saw, as they waved and called out, he glanced back at them. “Craig looked back,” I remember one boy said. Memory is tricky though. There was a deep wound, a gash, across his face, one boy said. Through the blanket, the wound seeped. You could see it, he said. I can still see it.
The funeral was Thursday. I rode my bike. I don’t remember planning. I put on school clothes and went. I didn’t expect to meet up with anyone. I knew friends from school would be there. I left my bike behind the church and went around and in through the big glass doors in front. In tight groups in the foyer, some girls I knew stood, shooting glances over each other’s shoulders. Grown-ups tipped their faces, kneeled, crossed themselves, disappearing into their pews. Matching each other’s movements, two altar boys lifted tapers along stands of white candles. Beautiful stained glass windows. I didn’t understand then that the world had always already been riven by invisible divisions, hidden fractures, voids, separations. Maybe we cannot see them until we are taken across, which is when we learn how to look back. Up until that funeral morning, there hadn’t been a “before.” And then “before” was over. After the funeral, I rode my bike home, changed out of my school clothes, and went outside. The only agate I ever found, I found down the creek where the body of Craig Alongi was recovered.
Crystals transform energy. Walking by the creek, the weight of your step makes a phone call. Down in the pebbles under your shoe, inside the quartz, across lattices of crystals, little phone booth doors flap shut. (Remember—this is 1973). Mechanical energy from the weight of your step dials tiny signals through the quartz into the ground: Where are you? People attribute special properties to agates. Spiritual, emotional, and physical vibrations are contained in the mineral banding. Diverting dangerous storms stands high on an internet list of the properties of agates. Truthfulness is up there near the top. Spiritual protection. The only agate I ever found, I found in the scoured pool below 30th Street where Craig’s body became entangled in the sweeper branches of a fallen tree.
Clouds boil and spread themselves out. If you stop and look and watch closely, you can see the cauliflower curlicues bulge out of their edges as they float on rivers of air all one direction over the summer trees. The trees look like clouds, too, if you were to look down on them from above, if you were a bird, if you flew out of your body. From above, oak trees in summer sweat deep greens into the sun, breathing and foliating, each bulge of them a green hump of smoke over a smokestack, a mushroom cloud of chlorophyll explosions, a vegetable breath. Thunderstorm clouds can weigh 1,000 tons. Landing at Moline, I rent a car, cross the canal, then Rock River, pass the quarry, then hang a right onto Black Hawk Road.
In September after the reunion, using a number I had gotten from a friend of a friend, I sent a text message to John Wiggins, one of the boys who was with Craig the day he drowned: “I got this number from Eric _____. This is ________. I’m looking for _______. I want to talk to him about Craig Alongi. Please text me back if you want to. If you don’t, I understand.” One minute after I sent the text, my phone rang. It was John.
“I was pretty far behind him,” John said. “He was in front of everyone. I knew every inch of that creek,” John said. I was sitting on the back step outside. I had pulled the door shut behind me. I wanted to talk to John alone, without my family hovering in the room. It took a bit for us to find our rhythm. We kept starting in, talking over each other. We’d stop, wait for the other, then interrupt each other again. “It haunts me,” John said. “Every single day. I knew every inch of that creek. I knew that construction was there.” I was thinking how another of the boys, Kelly Rudd, described it. “I do remember we had done this several times,” Kelly said, referring to swimming in the flooded creek—creek riding, they called it. “All the way back behind Eugene Field School. To my knowledge, no one knew that they extended the pipe under 31st Avenue. As I recall, about a city block. Behind the church. I can kind of still see it in my head. All of a sudden, we went around the bend and the creek just stopped. In an instant you realize the creek is going somewhere. In that water, all that volume is going somewhere. And you have to get out. Evaluate. Where is it going? But—too late by then,” Kelly said.
On the phone, John’s voice sounds far away. Maybe he’s on speaker. The effect is muffled, echoey. Like I’m talking to him from a different dimension, his voice has that tremulous sound, like we were speaking under water. John said, “I saw his arms fly up. His legs and arms.” John paused. “Kind of a thrashing.” He paused again. “That was it. He was gone.” Picturing so fiercely the accident unfolding as he described it, I heard John talking to me as though he were back, still there, too. Somehow, we were looking back in time, scanning the flow of the creek, feeling our eyes catch on the silent, corkscrewing crease of the whirlpool. John’s voice sounded ragged. His sentences clipped, just a few short words. “John,” I said. “How high was the water? At the culvert I mean. Was it, like, half-way up? Was it almost to the top?”
Later, I told a friend that when I’d gone back home, before I went out to the reunion, I’d climbed inside the culvert and that, as I’d left, I had crossed myself, and my friend said, “You breathed within it.” Later, I examined the picture I had taken while kneeling just inside the opening, pointing my phone into the dark. The rings of the corrugated pipe made halos that emanated from the dot of light far down at the other end. The creek lapped, daylight in wedges of ripples ever flowing. I thought about how buggy it was, and how anxious I had felt, scooting down the side of the gully, peering into the culvert, sure someone was about to yell, “Hey! What are you doing?”
“Nothing,” John cut me off. “It was covered,” he said. “Completely.”
“Underwater?” I asked.
“You couldn’t see it,” he said. They took about ten minutes where they kind of stood there, he said. Figuring out what to do. One of them went to a nearby house to call for help. John said, “I’m only telling you what I think I remember.” I told him I had it in my head that Craig had looked back, that Craig had smiled. Like he knew what he was doing, I thought. Like he was doing it on purpose. “He never knew what got him,” John said. “I saw his legs fly up, and his arms. Like something grabbed him from below.”
I knew then the movie I had made in my head, in which Craig is looking back, speeding with the current into the open mouth of the culvert, was mistaken. And I could feel the shift that resulted: I became bereft. The tragedy reframed itself, from a version where I could in some self-protective way blame the victim, to one where all of us are in the creek, all of us are swimming and playing. “We were young kids,” John said. Stoned, goofing in the current. And, out ahead, nearer or farther, there’s the place where the bottom opens, and no one told us about it, no one told us this trap had been opened, and when we are swallowed, it happens so fast we won’t know what got us. It wasn’t the tight-hearted morality tale I had warped it into, out of resentment, and projected fear. It was awful, in the archaic sense of “inspiring reverential wonder and fear.” It was baffling and nauseating and dreadful. It wasn’t Craig’s fault. It was worse. It was an accident. They were swimming in the creek. The creek was gloriously flooded, going everywhere out of its banks. They were stoned; they were having a ball! Playing and swimming in a backyard flashflood the likes of which no one had ever seen. From when they jumped in near 38th Street to where Craig disappeared, the lines were erased, the woods were free space. No one was peering down, yelling, “Hey! Get out of here!” The ravine through all those backyards in those neighborhoods was turning into a lake! And they were on it. They were in it. They were helping make it happen. “Fuck you, Alongi! You pussy!” Bill Naab yells. Everyone is laughing as the floodwater rips like a waterpark slide around S-turns and tumbles them off of their feet.
Agates form inside voids in the host rock, the mother rock. Mineral-rich water seeps, filling the voids. The minerals crystalize. The predominant mineral, in the case of agates, is quartz. Healers around the world have used quartz to focus or read energy. Crystals harness energy, and transform it. Crystals function as energy channels, like radios signaling through crystal receivers, news from the winter front at Chosin Reservoir. On Hawthorn Road, in 1950, my grandfather tips his head, listening. The radio console’s single telescoping antenna: rectitude. Monotheism. It stabs a finger into the radiosphere. Gusts of static, white noise, snow. Inside the cabinetry, a glow, tiny lights, vacuum tubes. A city below the pass. Hungnam, with the Sea of Japan in the blackness beyond. After news, the opera. My grandfather sings. In his basement, his voice floats on its back. I feel it push against the underside of the kitchen floor in a house off campus, on Elizabeth Street, where my girlfriend from college stands, watching the rain. The rain makes wet tracks in the dawn light streaking on the window. I turn off the faucet in the bathroom. Wipe my face on a damp towel. She practices saying it: she is moving out.
Agates outlast their surroundings. At the reunion dinner at the downtown botanical center, I am counting, and counting time. It is hard, watching them, not to think of wishes lifted up, whispered or thought. Or prayers. Or souls, settling into their journey. The Road of Straw, as the Milky Way is called in dozens of different languages, in cultures across central Asia, the Middle East, north Africa. We watch until the sparks become too small. Impossible to pick out of the enveloping gloaming. Back inside, the DJ flips a switch. Jingle-jangle post-punk-retro-surfer-queer-campy guitars drenched in locker room reverb and shouty slutty lyrics explode from under-amped speakers: Glitter on the mattress / Glitter on the highway / Glitter on the front porch / Glitter on the hallway Some people, the reddest of my red-state MAGA people of my high-school class, get up in a dance line, weave through the tables out onto the little parquet floor. Others square up, stamping and clapping. It’s hard to tell what the middle of it is. I’m embarrassed to watch. Coffee burning in my hand, I step into the rainforest room. By philodendrons near a koi pond, another moment, approximating a meditative pause. Then a cricket. At my shoulder. “Chirp.” From the skylight ceiling three stories above me, a drip falls, dimples the pond.
People said, “Did you see Terry lately?” and people said, “Yeah, I seen him, he looked horrible, pass me that would you, out in Silvis, thanks, really, really.”
People said, “Then her sister died so she raised him. . .”
Then people said, “With my rheuma and my osteo. . .” and they hold up their hands to you and their wrists showed, tumorous bulges, knuckle joints swollen, angling the wrong ways and the fingers you didn’t see because you were looking too long at the wrists.
Poison ivy loves edges, you thought.
“We’re ready to go back,” people said. “Five weeks would’ve been perfect. Six is a stretch.”
“The corruption in this state is epic and the state is failing as a result, it’s like czarist Russia when Chekhov was writing,” people said.
People said, “Your poetry is so deep, when I read it, it just comes from here,” and they slide their hand down their front and you smile gratefully and feel something tremble inside and you think, “You lost your three babies, and you’re telling me my poetry is deep?” embarrassed, but not too embarrassed to keep saying thank you, thank you, and wondering what it would feel like.
Then people said, “I timed my drugs all wrong,” and then they said, “You had wine at breakfast?” meaning in France. (Yes.)
“Look at the pelicans!” people said. “It’s on the map. Check it. See? It’s called ‘Pelican Island.’ So, yeah, they been here before, and now they’re coming back.” And people said, “That one is called Gooz Island. And that one is called Red Neck Island.”
Then people said, “Do you remember?” and you do. One was the daredevil from the carnival who climbed up and jumped off the top of Centennial Bridge, and when two days and two nights later they found him, he was stuck like a knife in a brick of butter, right under the bridge, ass deep, wedged in the mud.
People said, “Can I carry that?” and they said, “You get him a cookie, I’ll carry that.”
People said, “119. I was city champion. Is Price here? Let me see. No. I remember him skinny. Not white hair.”
People said, “My doctor said he’d really like me to consider that if I don’t want to die from a heart attack, I should lose 90 pounds.”
Then someone spectacular said, “I lost all my woman parts!” And, “See? Right here, I got stitches, under the eye and over it, where I got kicked one time at Lincoln Park,” and she leans in showing you the scars, where the feet walked across her face, and you thought at first she was going to say “kicked by a horse,” but instead she says it was a man, wearing a boot, who kicked her in the face, at Lincoln Park. She lost 190 pounds since then and lives now on Social Security and the number she gave you, what her check is every month, is the smaller hundreds, and how does she, you’re about to wonder, but she says, “We spend my check on cookies and cigarettes, and his check goes to the electric.” Then she turns around, and other people nearby see her and all of them let out reflexive cries as tears spill into their smiles, as they embrace and embrace each other, and say each other’s names over and over.
A cubic foot of water weighs 62.427 pounds. The creek was flowing 5 miles-per-hour, speed of the average flood at Rock Island. Through 50-inch pipe, that equates to 100 cubic feet of water per second. 100 cubic feet of water weighs 6,427 pounds. Per second, 6,427 pounds, the curb weight of the 1973 Miller-Meteor Cadillac hearse. Go ahead. Look it up.
It’s not that there are no boundaries.
It’s that boundaries create the conditions for connection.
Crystals form on boundaries.
Did you ever read John Keats’s poem, “To Autumn”? It’s such a strange trance. Stoned stillness dwells deep within lines teeming with subtle motions. It’s the bubble tension of lucid dreaming. “To Autumn” is nearly the last poem John Keats wrote before he went and got a “real” job because his poetry wasn’t paying his keep. About a year later, he died. In Rome, where he’d gone, seeking treatment—he was 25—for pulmonary tuberculosis, which he’d contracted while caring for his brother, who died of the same thing. It’s like Keats wrote that poem to make the brook, then reach across the brook, to reach into the void his brother disappeared into.
In early September the creek goes still and quiet. Indian Summer days. The creek often will subside into a ghost of itself, a shadow, imprinting the silt, of an invisible flow, seeping among reddish threads of weeping willow roots. I am only beginning to assimilate how thoroughly the one detail has disrupted the course of the memory, the story I had trained in my mind. The culvert—it’s 50 inches high, a little over four feet, about as tall as your shoulders—lay entirely submerged. Thus, Craig had no idea what he was heading for. John did, but was too far back, too late to see what was about to happen, only seeing it as it did happen and knowing at the same time what it was. “He got in the whirlpool,” John said. When an agate is freed from the mother rock, its outer surface is pitted and rough, and typically a muddy color, earthy green or reddish brown. The agate I found in the creek where Craig drowned was reddish brown.
On a social media site relating to the upcoming 40th reunion of my high school class, some people were posting comments about Craig. These exchanges of remembrances and tributes, which occurred in a scattering of posts over several months leading up to the reunion, perhaps is what at last sparked me to begin thinking about him. One former classmate, a girl who lived in the neighborhood between my neighborhood and Craig’s, who for the life of me I never would have thought would have felt this way then, posted that she always adored Craig Alongi, because of how cute he was, because of his curly hair, his electric smile. I’m saying it awkwardly here. I cannot tell for sure whose post it was. For many of us, Craig was the first of our friends who had died. For me, Craig’s funeral was the first of the three funerals I would go to at the age of 14.
On the Wednesday before the reunion weekend, I went to see Dead and Company out at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. I felt like the show was part of going to the reunion, and I got lost on the way there, because you can’t go home. Each turn taking me to smaller, less-traveled roads, finally entering a dismal-feeling woods, I followed a last command, a left turn into a parking lot. Adjusting derailleurs, tugging on helmets, a squad of middle-aged white guys like me, except they are wearing tight shorts and psychedelic jerseys, tapped around, pushing speedy looking bikes across the macadam. Fuck! Wrong life! In some trees, a sign indicated a trailhead. I checked the time. Already, the gates would be open. The lines are backed up at security: toss your bottle, open your backpack, empty your pockets, remove your hat. Out on the parking fields, swirling tie-dyes on hangers from the open backs of vans sway over card tables spread with tooled leather wallets, woven handbags, beaded bracelets, braided headbands, homemade earrings, jewelry made of sacred stones, dream catchers, hash pipes, roach clips mounted on lanyards decorated with feathers. The music is decent. There isn’t a song you don’t know by heart. It’s strange, a little. As though from that wrong turn, deep in a dream, you dove, popping into a future where everything looks back at you and seems familiar, but nothing is quite itself. The concert ends. Up the sloped hillside towards the exit at the top the crowd flows. In the humid air, halos shimmer, ringing the arc lights. After dancing for three-plus hours, to walk feels like swimming. I’m wobbly. I stop and look up. Hundreds and hundreds of fans, voices bubbling with joy from the music in the sweet Midwestern night. Then as I watch, the busses go by. Along the crest of the hill, amber roof lights scroll like a chyron across the bottom of the sky. You wonder where—where are they going?
A gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds.
Alongi throws an arm around my shoulder and hugs me in. Pulls open the collar of his shirt. “See?” he says. I see. . .bruises. Three. Four. Gum ball, red-purple, like plums. Like thumb prints at the base of his neck, along his clavicle. I look at him. “Hickeys,” he says. “My girlfriend gave me them.” He pulls up his shirt. Lets me go. It isn’t in the Times-Democrat story, but I was sure I wasn’t making this up: Craig looked back. He smiled. Then suddenly, he was gone.
We’re at Kavanaugh’s, the bar on the hill, the night before the big reunion banquet. I come up to Donnie, a guy I used to know before we all moved after high school. Donnie in the past year posted a lengthy comment on a discussion board devoted to the unsolved murder of a boy named Jeff Ramsey on Arsenal Island in 1972. Donnie says again as he said in his post that he was supposed to have gone fishing with Jeff on the day Jeff disappeared. Jeff asked Donnie if he wanted to go and he was going to, he says, but his mom made him come shopping with her. We can barely hear each other. The music is loud and the laughter around us is even louder. Donnie’s been a detective sheriff for 25 years in rural South Carolina. He’s talked to local cops back here and federal investigators, too, who were involved in Jeff’s case. But this isn’t about solving a cold case, although they think the guy who did it, a serial pedophile and murderer, committed suicide in prison. It’s different. It’s about reconciling our lives with the voids that our losses have opened inside them. It’s not what we are saying to each other, then. It’s that that we are both trying to catch hold of an understanding, by digging out the first, deepest cut, where the outlines may still be evident of the people we were becoming before we were touched by tragic loss in these different ways. Donnie is yelling at me, “Yeah, I went by Jeff’s old house today,” at the same time I’m yelling, “Yeah, I went down in the creek today, where Craig went.” I don’t tell Donnie I crossed myself. I wasn’t raised Catholic. I don’t know if I did it right. Standing in the mouth of the culvert, I wanted to give a sign.
Successive depositions, and the variations in their ingredients, create the banding. If the cavity in the middle never completely fills in, instead of an agate, the inner surface erupts with crystals stabbing inward, reaching towards the center of the void. The result is a geode. Like the one that a neighbor boy from a long time back home, Randy Brolander, kept on a shelf in his basement. Randy’s geode had been sawed in half and polished. The inside was chunked, spikey and jumbly looking, like dozens of teeth had grown smooshed together in a crystal mouth.
In the summer of 1973, the summer Craig drowned, excavators digging a utility line at the southeast corner of 11thStreet and Black Hawk Road uncovered an intact food storage pit containing corn, dried squashes and pumpkins. As the Sauk clans, including Black Hawk’s, (the Thunder clan), prepared to disperse onto their winter hunting grounds, this food cache would have been carefully filled, covered in a heavy layer of clay, and fire-sealed. It was likely sealed up the autumn of 1828, because that was the winter white settlers started moving in, into the Sauk’s longhouses. That August day, it started to rain, and it rained really hard. They decided to go creek riding. They left Hodge Park and walked down through the Carriage Place subdivision towards 38th Street. They saw the creek was really flooding and they were just playing. “We were young kids,” John said. “We were just playing.” They got in the creek below the goal post at the north end of Saukie Field, wading and swimming downstream. There are burial mounds scattered throughout the Watch Hill neighborhood of Rock Island, and up along the bluffs of the Rock River, too. Craig was buried in Chippiannock Cemetery, on the hill above 11th Street, not far from where two of Black Hawk’s children were buried. “Chippiannock” is a Sauk word. It means the village of the dead.
Randy told us to follow. We ducked into the culvert, crept into the darkness. We straddled the trickling creek. Inside the culvert, it felt cool. “It stinks in here,” said my brother. “No it doesn’t,” Randy said, his voice corrugating. You could see the far end glowing. Deep down in the middle of the pipe, “Sit,” Randy said. We sat, our butts on one side of the water, our feet braced on the other. “Look,” Randy said. He clicked his flashlight, pointed it up. It’s not that there are no boundaries. It’s that boundaries create conditions for connections. Every crystal forms a boundary. All our weird minerals, our impurities interweave and foliate through us. At the edges of the crystals’ fibers, tiny channels open and thread. The funeral, which outlasts our lives, has already begun when we get there. I rode my bike. Pushing on the big glass door, I enter through my reflection.
On the backstretch, opposite the compact grandstand, the stage: Tinker Toys of scaffold, planks and plywood. Mics up front, and stacks of Marshall amps and PA speakers flanking the drums. Local rock-and-rollers, older than us, wobbled the snow fence barrier. Bell bottoms, halter tops. Biker boots and sandals stirred the dirt of the racetrack. Davenport, Iowa. 7pm. July 23, 1973. Monday. Mississippi Valley Fairgrounds. Tickets, five dollars. Does it matter who the headliners were? 7pm. July 23. Monday. Tickets, five dollars. Bumping down the driveway, I pedaled over to Craig’s house. Got there, they’re standing out by the car. I don’t remember who. Mrs. Alongi came out. “Get in,” Craig said. Craig said, “Here, gimme the keys.” He opened the trunk. I climbed in. I was the littlest. I leaned down on my side. Someone from inside the car said something. I couldn’t hear what. Reaching up, Craig laughed. “No!” he hollered. He lowered the trunk lid, laughing, then banged it closed. I could see a snick of light from a rusty spot near the wheel well. The brake lights flared on and Mrs. Alongi started the car. The muffler barked. Exhaust filtered into my nose. Mrs. Alongi backed into the street, turned the car towards downtown.
I look into the agate. Imagine the force of the flood. A cubic foot of water weighs 62.427 pounds. Times one hundred. Per second. I see Craig smooth his hair with his hand. His eyes glimmer up from the water. He reaches into the air behind me. Lifts down his drum sticks. He’d sort of inherited the drum set. A full-sized rig, with a kick bass, high hats, two splash cymbals, a snare and two toms, the smaller one and the bigger one, to your right as you sit on the stool. He’d inherited it, I guess, from his father, or an uncle, maybe. One of those guys sure taught him to play. In fifth grade, Craig could do the entire “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” (“In the Garden of Eden”) drum solo. You’d probably recognize it if you heard it. Craig could PLAY it; he could WHAM it; he POUNDED it; he ROCKED it. He played it at his desk, at your desk, on your head, with his hands, or with pencils on his metal lunch box, on his math book, on Miss Feldman’s globe, dee-dee-dee-dee / dah-dah / doom-doom! tapping his funny flat-sole loafers, skedaddling his hands across encyclopedias, the map rack, the chemistry set, dee-dee-dum (tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick) dee-dee-dum (tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick) dee-dee-dum-dum / doom-doom / dee-dee-dee-dee /dah-dah / doom-doom! SRA Reading Lab to bike rack, snare-to-toms, the phrases that launch Ron Bushy’s solo. From the kick-bass intro to the rim-click outro, Craig knew the solo inside and out. A prodigy! Diving in where the drums like the waterfall footfalls of a giant centipede crunch and pan and phase-shift through your headset making all the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.
Fifty-inch pipe, almost shiny when they put it in, and we went scuttling through it many times, down into semi-dark getting darker all the way to the place where the new big pipe butted against the old pipe that was smaller, a foot shorter diameter, and you had to duck down farther, it was damp all the way up its sides and down in your crouch scooting through under 31st Avenue you came to where down through a shaft some ladder steps hung from a rim of dark under a manhole cover, the iron thumping when cars hit it coming down the hill and drove over you. On through to the downstream end opening into the back yards, light, trees, birds, grass, the backs of houses along 31st Avenue behind Bret Winger’s house, and Diane Jingst’s, and Mr. Anderson’s (the algebra teacher). The creek jiggles their reflections then longwise again through a culvert deep under 30th Street that opened on its downstream side into a pond scoured into the woods at the foot of the parking lot behind the playground at Eugene Field School. Craig’s up there on the blacktop, showing me his hickeys. Bruises. Fifth grade is almost over. “My girlfriend gave me them,” he says. We head inside.
A cubic foot of water weighs 62.427 pounds.
100 cubic feet of water per second.
Alongi would have loved Aerosmith’s third album, Toys in the Attic.
Where the creek presses itself against cave-in banks, oak trees and sycamore trees lean into space under flecks of turkey vultures who float up high on silent currents of air. Upstairs in my sister Emily’s room, we watched rain lash the neighbors’ houses. The oaks get punched with wind. The gusts make the leaves flatten and shake furiously. Thunder hammers the ceiling and rattles the walls. We inch the window higher for the cold blast. On the valley floor the creek is up. Churning and turbulent, it sucks through turns, pulling at its banks then spilling over, spreading all the way out. Moving inside a tunnel of sound, as best I could I kept track of where we were. From the top of the 17th Street hill, we rolled down the long incline, heading for the Centennial Bridge. Mid-span, a hundred feet above the glinting black of the Mississippi River, at the toll booths, I heard the automated message replay its ten-cent command: “Deposit toll, keep moving.” Through the backseat, my friends’ voices, muffled laughter. Through a rust hole in the wheel well, a speck of light. Coasting down into Davenport, Craig’s mom put on the gas. We climbed Harrison Street. A few blocks from the fairgrounds, traffic thickening, she pulled over. The doors chunked open, and then Alongi popped the trunk. A stab of sunlight. Squinting, I climbed out. We hustled toward the gate. Edgar Winter played “Frankenstein.” Savoy Brown played “Tell Mama.” Jo Jo Gunne played “Run Run Run.”
Alongi hitting his drums, the sound of atoms breaking, crystals cracking in the torrent, unrolling ruffles and fills over a gut-punch kick bass, the room so loud the air felt dense, on the verge of gelling, Alongi popping, looking straight up through the basement through the roof, sticks skating, whacking the snare, booming the toms, he drove it through the floor into engine rooms underground, into the diesel woods, with blackbird mobs in ravine thickets, along the old Sauk trails, shell middens and the shadows of longhouses under 11th Street, bones of Confederate soldiers, prisoners of war in their pine boxes under white stones on Arsenal Island, poor Jeff Ramsey’s soul in the afterlife pedaling, and Brenda Greenwood swimming up from the drowned front seat, her car off the bridge by the quarry in Rock River rising, her breath folding out of her father’s arms. Across the old pasture, fence posts still visible, rust-roughened barbed wire like strings from a big broken guitar pulling off the bent forms of hedge apple trees. At the creek, I might see anyone. A glance, from the water’s clutter. My shoes soaked and darkened. Where are you? In the culvert, he answers. At the far end. Looking out, he says. Or, just regular water then, purling, smooth, in long downstream consonants speeding over the gravel.
The deep river twilight will feel warm, the soft air barely moving. Paper lanterns will be opened and distributed and, after some difficulty (“Who has a lighter? Matches?”) one by one they will be lifted, held until they are ready, then gently let go. On the farther set of tracks, at the base of the levee, empty flatcars creep by us, a long, slow train of almost imperceptible shadows rolling, swaying. First one, then two, then three, rise, floating up, sideways, slowly away. Wish lanterns. Paper lanterns. They drift over our cars. Beyond the botanical center parking lot, they float away, out over the railroad tracks then the buildings on 2nd Avenue. Southeasterly, they drift, the direction of old St. Anthony’s Hospital. When in late autumn the trees lose their leaves, we rake them in piles on the curb and light them and tend to them as the burning piles send up clouds of smoke into the void of night.
Ted Lardner’s writing has recently appeared in or is forthcoming from About Place Journal, Pleiades, Missouri Review and other journals. He teaches at Cleveland State University.