My submission is a lyric essay with the excessively long title: I Hope to Reincarnate as a Turtle, but I'm in Love with a Place Where Rivers Catch Fire. It threads together images of turtles, motherhood-daughter relationships, and interactions with water to explore how we treat the places we move to.
Anna Adami is a writer, a lover, a meme. They like tiny hand finger puppets and the Chicago Bean.
“I Hope to Reincarnate as a Turtle, but I’m in Love with a Place Where Rivers Catch Fire”
by Anna Adami
All men are trash. I read this message while standing at Montrose beach. It’s from a lover in Texas. We bonded first over turtles. Chicago skyline leans in a smokey silhouette against the sun. A small child with no shirt & a bandaged chin grins. She is city born; hears trains clank on steel tracks & tires roll on concrete. She absorbs movement like it’s white noise, an electric fan kept on at night to fight lonely sound: silence. It is not lonely here. Waves swoosh in rhythmic pace & seagulls yip, swoop, and screech. Wind, always strongest by water, whistles & whooshes, knocks a girl off her feet.
Amy Leach writes, turtles sometimes travel with their eyes closed.
My mother drove 18 hours to get me here. I kept falling asleep. We are crafted from sawdust and wooden spoons, Mother and me, and we never cry.
Brown Line en Route to Kimball. I smell ripe of life jacket & river slime. I overhear a phone conversation:
—How’s your turtle? … You got a leash? … Did she run into the street? … Well. That’s how it’s gotta be, right? If you love something set it free.
The day my mother left the city, we cried. Onions, I presume.
First poem I wrote in Chicago, September 2017 (yikes):
hold my words as i wade into river
i wonder what staying in love might feel like
i move too much like water—there, now here
fear swims with the carp
baptized in human waste
we have shit to clean
The small girl with tangled hair and a bandaged chin grins. She leaps over waves, drums tummy, abandons bones. Her eyes alight with molten iron. All girls are born from Earth’s core, Mother’s womb. She moves like she hasn’t forgotten. She throws foam into wide sky, tilts her face & hollers. A wild beast calls from inside her belly & she hasn’t been taught yet to tame it. In an instant, laughing, she becomes water.
Her mother watches from the sand.
I look at my feet. They are not water, but flesh. How nostalgic this makes me.
Bus en route to Loop. Second overheard transit conversation re: turtles.
—When you have an animal that lives that long, don’t you have to have a plan?
—Maybe make turtle soup before I die.
I’ve never seen a turtle sunbathe in Chicago, though I spend forty hours a week on the river. Two weeks ago, I paddled by a raccoon carcass. The stench of rotting flesh mingled with the scent of Blommer’s chocolate factory. At the time, outside of work, I had been writing a story & in this story trying to fit raccoon into metaphor for motherhood.
I am not here to loot. I would like to live in a place by giving to it.
Today we raft on the wall across from Trump Tower. Traffic is chaos, everyone river loving the last of warmth in a city where winter is always coming. Kayaks bump together in sea-like wake; water pushed by lake wind and private boats. A cloud of exhaust billows from Wendella’s backside. Soon, rounding Wolf Point, we will see Lake blue turn to Wisconsin murk. Once, October 8, 1871, covered in hog shit and surrounded by wood, this river caught fire. Homie, who without fail before tours brings me coffee, tells guests, “Chicago is a city built on trash.”
Shikaakwa, city of Smelly Onion, Gwendolyn, Cisneros, The Bean. City of girl with bandaged chin & wide-sky grin. I wonder what staying in love might feel like. You were Potawatomie before DuSable. You called land Mother and your women planted seeds. I am an expat in your grasses. I am migrant to your waters. I want only to move slowly. Learn. Respect. I want to love you how my mama taught me to: do unto others as you’d have them do unto you.