Firestorm: Checagou – WINNER

In the tall stalks of plenty where prairie meets plains

a city is born. Wild onions, wild fantasies.

Rivers run through it. Strident streams of Great-Lake currents

steady the flow of New-England merchant men:

princes and paupers, land pirates build the inestimable

sprawling of sweeping horizons.


Pelts fall to planks

warriors to mayors

dreams to currencies

forests to sweatshops.

Steam horses spar

with human life.

A river reversed

a pestilence delivered



Necessity being the mother of invention,

steel structures rise, trains loop and dip

and the disassembly of beasts foretells

the Second Coming:  lean iron horses feeding

scrap yards. Meanwhile,

the torpid transmigration of souls transpires:

dumped into Bubbly Creek later washed

down the mighty Mississippi, generations later

the river choking on silt.


The Negro Speaks of Rivers.  “I’ve seen fire and

I’ve seen rain.”** I’ve seen a lakefront open to parks

and people, wetlands overfed with fill. The vanishing

and the vanquished. Trains, planes, automobiles:

the confluence a gritty grid of asphalt angles and granite

canyons. Boats carrying the hopeful across the

Great Dixie Divide. Mechanical men stacking flaxen

into elevators of wealth. Driven creators the brilliant

architects of modernity.


Flash forward to grim brick smokestack-like Habitats

for Humanity. Distinctive Projects. Progress. Native Sons

also rising. A Metamorphosis:  onion fields to fertilizer beds

to killing parks slashed to the quick

with modern-day scythes and sickles;

drug-sick shepherds keeping watch on their flocks to part rival

weave from neighborhood chaff:  flushing out futures like grouse

in the grasses, flesh falling from bone; sacrificial lambs, our heads

bowed to the heavens. Our Country ‘Tis of Thee.

The ages echoing one into another,

aging with heartbreak, of thee I sing.


Rapid-fire consumption our

Gross National Product.


Metal scrambles, screams through tissue;

just another Stormy Monday, the papers say. Strange Fruit falling

from the popular to arms. Farewell. Hand to hand combat. Friendly

fire. The gun runner wailing with the gospel choir.

“O, here’s the shoe my baby wore, /But, baby, where are you?”***


A most uncivil war. Urban unrest. City of Big Shoulders, gangly adolescence.

Oh holy

night. Violence begets violence. O say,

can you see, by the dawn’s dimming light.

The rocket’s red glare the bombs bursting in air

gives proof through the night that our hearts are not there.

For the land of the free and the home of deep strife:

unsettled, unhealthy, unbidden. Rife

with sorrow.


I speak of rivers

fire and rain.


*Native American term meaning skunk weed, smelly onion

**James Taylor, “Fire and Rain” by    ***Dudley Randall, “The Ballad of Birmingham”


A retired English Professor, Nancy L. Davis divides her writing time between Chicago and Long Beach, Indiana, on Lake Michigan. Her poetry, short fiction, reviews and articles have placed in numerous competitions and appeared in such journals as Primavera, The Ledge Magazine of Poetry & Fiction, Route Nine and Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table. Prior to teaching, Ms. Davis wrote and produced award-winning educational films; she holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and Literature from The University of Massachusetts in Amherst.