View from the Junior High School Bus in the Midst of Mass Extinction

by Erin Calabria

We’d known all the forests and oceans were dying back in elementary school, learned to layer and paint papier-mâché manatees, orangutans, black rhinos.

We hadn’t known the junior high school bus would shudder us away to a town named for the man who had massacred the Indigenous people there, or how the names of those tribes who once set weirs where fish ladders now climbed would be used to section our class:

Nipmuc.

Pequot.

Wampanoag.

Abenaki.

Narragansett.

Micmac.

Instead we learned how, on the rocks below the bridge our bus crossed twice a day, two boys in search of dinosaur prints had drowned, one slipping while the other swam after, the current winding quick and deep. Raised up above the cars, we could see the exact spot—the rocks on one side, on the other the dam and the hollow, brick ribs of mills once meant to make the town rich but that never did.

Instead we saw how, just after dawn, cormorants now guarded those rocks, wings fanned wide among wraiths of mist. For the length of the bridge, for as long as we could, we watched them through the tempered glass, through the fog of the crooked river and of fossil fuel and our own inaudible breaths:

Dark angels in mourning, or else bracing for whatever darkness was coming next.

Author's Note

I felt it once. The pull of the river. Sixth grade graduation, off the dock out behind the house of the richest, prettiest girl in our class. I was wearing a soccer shirt over my bathing suit and swam out just a foot or two too far, out where the water starts to drag toward the dam. But I turned then, kicked and paddled hard, pushed back up on the wood planks with arms tired, one of the boys staring like he knew why but didn’t say, like we weren’t supposed to talk about irrevocable things like rivers or time or death. I live an ocean away now from that place, but you’ll understand if I can’t ever quite leave it, if I can’t quite release that hold. All I can do is try to know it instead.

Erin Calabria grew up on the edge of a field in rural Western Massachusetts and currently lives in Magdeburg, Germany. She is a co-founding editor at Empty House Press, which publishes writing about home, place, and memory. You can read more of her work in Little Fiction, Milk Candy Review, Longleaf Review, Pithead Chapel, and other places.