R is for raw sewage, riverine wetland, rubbish, rookery of herons and egrets, rusting barrels of toxic waste. I try to imagine all of this at Pig’s Eye Lake. Surrounding it, marsh, cottonwoods, floodplain, bluffs above the great river. It’s a place the Dakota consider sacred, James Rock says. Čhokáŋ Taŋka, the Dakota call it: the big middle. I try to imagine the burial mounds that were blown up with dynamite, and railyards, locks and dams, dredging, and all the household trash that was dumped in the marsh, the industrial debris: lead-acid batteries, solvents, electrical transformers, burnt sludge. Eight million cubic yards, some of it fluorosurfectants—the so-called forever chemicals needed to make non-stick frying pans, stain-repellent for couches and rugs—the PFOS that have spread everywhere, now taint my blood, and yours, and every creature’s.
The night Barack Obama was elected president, Roger Sinclair and his family gathered in his living room to watch the results come in. And there Roger—lifelong Democrat, city councilman, local party chair—drank a bottle of Merlot and elbowed his granddaughter Emily in the cheek, breaking her orbital socket.
Before the incident, the evening had been a happy one. Roger’s son Joel and daughter-in-law Colette were as rapt as he by the momentous events. All agreed that John McCain (a patriot, to be sure) was mired in the past, while the young candidate from Chicago—his beautiful family, his dazzling smile—represented an optimism the country hadn’t seen in a generation.
“It’s a return to Camelot,” Roger said, lifting his glass, though Joel’s and Colette’s puzzled faces told him they missed the reference.