Plain China

Red Rock Township, c. 1850

by Nathan Kooker · University of Iowa
"War Is Over", Ernest Volynec ·

Before she was drowned

in forty feet of silt and squalid water

Red Rock was a post for river rats

meandered up the muddy Des Moines,

 

come to toe the line of east

as far west as it had been, come

to steal ponies and rob coaches

and make business with the Fox

 

who would trade a bear skin

for less whiskey than you might

spit between your teeth. She

was a square-mile plot of rutted

 

ground and barnwood shanties

where a saloon stood for city hall,

where a preacher was made to deliver

the mail, where Good Judge Lynch

 

presided over all matters of unwritten

law and transgressors were whipped

or bludgeoned or hanged or shot dead

and rolled loglike into the river.

 

There are many myths as to why

they are red, those sudden faces

of sandstone that rose around the town

like barricades, like heaven’s blind.

 

Row out to the place above Red Rock

where a reservoir now laps at the chin

of those rusted cliffs, where your paddle

might skip on a chimney or the gnawed

 

trunk of that state record sycamore,

and you will catch a glint that’s shards

of buried bottles and window panes

cut through clay gums like a wicked grin,

 

an artifact of that which has been twice

flooded and never washed away.

 

About the Author

Nathan Kooker · University of Iowa

Nathan Kooker is an Iowa native who finished his degree in English and philosophy at the University of Iowa last spring. He’s in law school now, determined to someday pen the world’s most lyrical fine-print. "Red Rock Township, c. 1850" first appeared in earthwords

About the Artist

Ernest Volynec ·

"War is Over" first appeared in Persephone's Daughters