1 Ponca We left sea level this morning, headed north on a highway gradually climbing. Now, on the brink of the ridge, this road has height to lose. In a flung-snake descent toward the river it drops, twisting through levels of green, new leaves on sassafras, blackgum, maple, fall- ing (Louisiana roads never pull these tricks) Brakes strain and tires dig in, setting off bombs of dust every curve whip -lashing our necks and spines while what in the world? whole hillsides made of rock (no rocks back home) limestone bluffs in a herky-jerky show rise up on either side, gray, pink, ruffled with lichen— More green leaves, last neck-snapping turn before we stop. A sigh of dust. My stomach’s still quavering. Sixteen and worried: how will I look in my bathing suit? Have I eaten little enough? —an apple, a nibbled roll. A bikini, a ball cap, and untied sneakers are all I need, and a sleeping bag, for a float trip with my big brother, his girlfriend, some friends of theirs. Lately my value has risen. I got to go on the trip. Doors slam. 2 Putting in ‘The unfolding of the unforeseen was everything. Turned wrong way around, the relentless unforeseen was what we schoolchildren studied as history, harmless history’ A flat gravel lot. Stands of willows in sand. The river amber, golden, clear over round rocks in the shallows where minnows dart, flashing silver. Out in the middle it’s clear too but darker, tinted blue-green like sunglasses, with ripple marks scratched on the surface. Behind me the others are working. Unclipping, untying. Hey sis, come get your gear. They’ve all started calling me sis. They lift canoes off the vehicles, shoulder them to the river and set them down, red, yellow, and blue like first-day crayons. There’s yours. I tiptoe forward, half-crouched in the rocking canoe, take my seat, and wince at the scrape of metal on gravel when my brother’s friend wades out, gives a shove, and leaps in. A startling sense of transfer, lightening, as we swing away from the bank, trees and bluffs swiveling around. This must be current: I know from the furrows on top of the water, from the powerful tug that comes from those slate-green depths… The boat veers. Hey, says my partner, you gotta paddle. Boulders. The water crisps white. In panic I look past the blank boy astern to my brother, back on the bank that’s slipping away so fast. What do I do? I yell. Can we practice? Reared over his own canoe, reaching to hold it steady, he laughs at me, giving his girlfriend his hand. His beard juts out. Under the brim of his cap, his blue eyes flame. Hell no, you don’t get to practice! How do I do it? You’ll figure it out. Go on. My answer a wavering Bye! — caught by the breeze and flung at the bluffs like a glass, a shattering wineglass. Shards. ‘where everything unexpected in its own time is chronicled on the page as inevitable.’ 3 Undone Not a bank this time but a shore, another spring. A raft of brown pelicans: heavy and elegant, like ancient suitcases gone airborne, they flap overhead. Ponderous, calm. Clean saltwater laps at my feet. Again early April, the lesson not yet learned, the lesson of transfer. One medium to another. How things can blow and spill their right containers. The age of the uncontainable, crude oil encasing vane, quill, and down, eyelid to webbed foot, a petrification that burns, pore by pore, with its poison. Panic. The acrid, slow smothering begins. OIL SPILL: HOW MUCH IS A DEAD PELICAN WORTH? NEW YORK (CNNMONEY.COM) — Just how much is a dead pelican worth? BP is about to find out. As the owner of the still leaking oil well in the Gulf of Mexico the oil giant will pay billions of dollars in damages, much of which will compensate for the birds, fish, mammals, are killed by the accident noun 1. an undesirable or unfortunate happening that occurs intentionally or usually results in harm, injury, damage, or loss; casualty; mishap: automobile accidents. 2. Law. such a happening resulting in injury that is in no way the fault of the injured person for which compensation or indemnity is legally sought. 3. any event that happens unexpectedly, without a deliberate plan or cause. 4. change; fortune; luck: When a pelican dives, it retracts its coarse brown canvas wings on cumbersome pulleys, tucks its flapsack pouch of a bill, and points the twindling shaft of its body down through cubits of air into salty brown waves, and on like a racer who blows past the finish line into a long, slow flourish of inertia, but this time no clean medium of cool salt, clear bubbles streaming by, small perfect globes no now it cannot move, the wings cannot extend and blade the body back to the surface no graze of fish no rightness of surround glued in viscous, rust-colored tars the cells of the body remembering flight, free movement feather to air membrane to water life that should be inalienable the creature’s thereness wordless, ecstatically itself not knowable again recoverable, not Subject: Grand Isle area surveys,badly oiled birds at mangrove island colony From: Date: Sat, 26 Jun The shoreline and the bases of the mangroves were coated with oil and many birds foraging along the edge or seeking shelter under the mangrove canopy had become badly oiled. In addition to many oiled pelicans and Great and Snowy egrets, high percentages of the Black-crowned Night-Herons and (the hundred or so) Roseate Spoonbills were in bad shape. 4 Porches Where I Said She Said You Will I Hope Stay, Say If there’s a porch in the heaven you didn’t believe in, and a coffeepot, we’ll have so much to talk over big news and small farm gossip and big questions and more than ever to tell you: how the morning after your funeral I knocked on your daughter’s door saying, “Hate to wake you but hey, you’d better get up Big storm on the way headed straight to New Orleans then here” From behind the screen she looked at me with her cool steel eyes new teacher, unwedded yet that came later after the fling with that other guy who asked her for your guitar , and she gave it can’t blame her, all mixed up then we all were not thinking straight, her not a mother yet either that too I’ll tell you, how down the road there were grandchildren beautiful kids presuming we’ll have all the time in the world and listen since you said with some of your last breaths When I’m able to talk again, I’ve got a lot to say which I want to hear, believe me What was it like there, dying? Did you float around your bed the way people say, hover like some kind of genie? Could you see your little red-eyed ragged band, us, gathered? Feel forces pulling? anyway, she ( It’s a big fucking universe, you pointed out once, physics of light-fucking-energy, other dimensions and time so weird, who knows ) but back to shadowy her, behind the screen door awake and answering, “So we lost Pop and now we’re gonna lose New Orleans too.” My aunt older wiser passing the standard down could only stammer, Yeah. Looks like it how later that fall we put you in a little box and tucked you in under the pecans in the back corner wood ducks red-bellied woodpeckers waterthrush hang out there little pecans on your grave, swamp lilies we hope you like it no prayers, no words, just somebody picking chords to help us walk, help us pick our way across those dirt clods, and back to the house for pie and coffee coffee in your Far Side mugs best we could do, okay and how— maybe there’ll be time eventually by the way we got your guitar back 6 Oh Not that anyone plays it 7 A Bulletin from the Front Subject: Grand Isle Stabilization Center From: Date: Fri, 25 Jun The Stabilization Center was manned for the most part by LSU Veterinary students who I found very competent and dedicated. The numbers ran from 5 to 20 birds a day most of which arrived alive. The majority of the birds which came in were heavily oiled juvenile pelicans. Other birds were a dead Tri-colored Heron, dead Sandwich Tern, dead Double- Crested Cormorant, dead and alive Forsters’ Terns, dead and alive Laughing Gulls and an injured White Pelican. They were all covered head to toe in a very sticky brown tar. We were tasked with taking the birds’ temperature and supplying heat lamps if necessary, cleaning the oily muck from their bills, washing out their eyes, giving them a water and Pepto mixture through a tube and seeing them onto a transportation boat for the cleaning facility in Ft. Jackson, LA. The sounds of these birds (juvenile pelicans) are hard to describe. Some of the vocalizations sound like a hoarse whinny, others sounded like a resigned or pleading Green Heron, and the most haunting was what sounded like a pathetic prehistoric wail out of Jurrasic Park. ‘The terror of the unforeseen is what the science of history hides, turning a disaster into an epic.’ D.C. al Coda It’s not a shore to start with, it’s grass running on forever, each blade shining with light like a coating of white. Like a joyous summer levee. Or a pasture, planted with winter rye, like where our sneakers and boots used to tromp, where laughter once rang against the trees. Then the bottom drops out. Ground vanishes underfoot. A ravine appears between us, dividing you from me. You, on a grassy knoll that’s now a brink, a bank, but still so close, so very near. I can see your beard, your vet scrub shirt turned creamy white, like a tunic. Hands should be able to reach, to span the expanse, but distance gallops between. Your figure shrinks. Forever I can tell it is you. Steadily the current bears me away. I call for help. For a chance to get ready, to practice. You’ll figure it out, you shout back. You’ll figure it out, go on. You might even be laughing. Who knows. ______________________________________________________________________________________________ SOURCES “Cameron Parish marshlands protected with barriers.” http://www.kfdm.com/news/oil-38218-cameron-barriers.html, 17 June 2010. Dictionary.com. https://www.dictionary.com/browse/accident “Grand Isle Stabilization Center.” Eric Liffman to Louisiana Birding List-Serve, 25 June 2010. “Grand Isle area surveys 6/23-24, badly oiled birds at mangrove island colony Louisiana.” Steven W. Cardiff to Louisiana Birding List-Serve, 26 June 2010. Hargreaves, Steve. “How Much Is a Pelican Worth?” CNN Money, 21 June 2010. https://money.cnn.com/2010/05/21/news/economy/ bp_wildlife/index.htm. Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. Vintage Books, 2004, pp. 113-14. ______________________________________________________________________________________ Hope Coulter teaches and directs the Hendrix-Murphy Foundation Programs in Literature and Language at Hendrix College. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including The Yale Review, Southwest Review, and Literary Matters, and her collection The Wheel of Light was published in 2015 by BrickHouse Books. Awards for her writing include the Laman Library Writers Fellowship, the Porter Prize for Literary Excellence, and four Pushcart nominations. Hope is a Louisiana native who earned her AB at Harvard University and her MFA at Queens University of Charlotte. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas.