Footnotes from “Phosphates, Nitrates and the Lake A Incident: A Review.”

1. Following the conventional naming system created by the Court of the Five Silver Moons.

2. Estimates derived from a survey of original documents and scholarly papers. The claim of 77,777 watermaidens by the Ambassador of the Court of the Indigo Sun, frequently cited by later scholars, may be safely dismissed as propaganda intended to convince Court members that this method of imprisonment was perfectly safe, as can the rumor that glimpses of multiple watermaidens are either an optical illusion or an enchantment cast by a single watermaiden to hide her precise location. The lake is not of sufficient size to support more than a few dozen watermaidens, and their skills in illusion and enchantment are limited. For more, see the comprehensive surveys by Thiten Amhranai on the history of watermaidens and their abilities and limitations.

3. Indeed, escapes from supposedly secure imprisonments appear to have been more common than actual secure imprisonments in ancient times. Even the most inaccessible, remote underworld areas were frequently breached by monsters and mortals.

4. Research conducted by mortals and others confirms that the limestone cave systems beneath the lakes are of fully natural origin.

5. As with their guards and jailors, the exact numbers are unknown, but at least 13 were confirmed to have been transported to the limestone caves, and possibly 64 more.

6. Cold iron, in addition to its other issues, would easily rust in the warm waters.

7. The slits in the grills were large enough to allow cave fish and other natural creatures to slide in and out of the caves, ensuring that they would suffer only limited effects.

8. This would not be a problem until centuries later, when mortals began searching the underwater caves with scuba gear. The resulting scramble to enchant and hide the grills and divert curious mortals nearly drained two different Courts of their yearly supplies of liquid moonlight; see The Fae Bulletin for a detailed if somewhat sensationalistic report of the struggles to swiftly replenish those supplies.

9. Though notoriously fickle, watermaidens are capable of living underwater for extended periods of time, and thus have often been entrusted with equally perilous items.

10. The use of such fertilizers is common among mortals, who remain without access to other methods for encouraging plant growth.

11. Although increased algae growth had been observed in waters close to heavily fertilized areas, the effects of this growth were not well or widely understood by mortals or Court scholars at the time.

12. 19th century photographs taken by mortals show crystalline clear waters in the lake, along with abundant fish, birds, and other wildlife. The lake bottom could easily be seen even in windy and cloudy conditions. Thanks to the freshwater spring, also tended by watermaidens, the lake remained at a near constant temperature year round, even in freezing conditions and in the peak of summer.

13. Ironically, the heavy use of phosphorus and nitrogen may have come about in part from an increased demand in many Courts at the time for mortal juices made from citrus fruits.

14. Phosphorus and nitrogen occur naturally in the mortal and nearby worlds, requiring no special enchantments for use. Because of this, they are often overlooked as potential hazards, and it is quite possible that the watermaidens never noticed.

15. The first reports of brown-tinged waters came from mortals in the 1940s, before any Court regularly reviewed mortal news or correspondence. Even now, many Courts decline to do so, citing concerns about the effect of such news on their denizens.

16. This may not have been the first attempt at communication; the drops of water used by watermaidens to send messages are notoriously fragile. Attempts to update these communication systems have been sporadic and ineffective; even enchanted paper breaks down at their touch, and so-called waterproof electronics can only be used for brief periods.

17. It was not an illogical conclusion; although large die-offs of birds have often been associated with monstrous activity, they have been linked to mortals as well.

18. Supernatural involvement has been suspected, but not proven, in the 1980 dumping of DDE in the lake. It should be noted that mortals are perfectly capable of releasing pollutants on their own.

19. Scientific studies conducted by mortals cannot, of course, be entered into official Court records, but were and are still read and understood by Ambassadors and other Court interests. Many such studies can be found in Court libraries.

20. Photos taken by mortals in 1985 confirm that by this time, it was nearly impossible to see anything in the lake. Even large alligators could often only be spotted by the nearby movement of water.

21. By this time, the original white and grey sand at the bottom of the lake was completely covered in brown and black muck.

22. A search of mortal records suggests that the first deaths may have occurred in the late 1970s. A supernatural origin was not suspected until the mid-1990s.

23. The marks were not readily apparent on an initial inspection, but became visible under a mortal MRI machine, or when viewed through a moonlit-treated sapphire.

24. Although the enchantments could be enhanced to allow recipients to breathe for longer periods, such enhancements often left the recipients unable to move their arms for weeks or months afterwards. Understandably, most declined.

25. A later investigation ordered by the Queens of the Court of the Indigo Sun and the Court of the Five Silver Moons found neither the maps nor an explanation for their disappearance. Some have theorized that interests hostile to mortals, and unaware that the monsters imprisoned in the underwater cave systems also posed a threat to denizens of the Court, purposefully removed the maps to make it harder for anyone to find the gates—and thus notice their destruction.

26. At the same time, enchantments were hastily being replaced and replenished at the other cave systems, to strengthen the defenses against both escape and mortal detection.

27. The legal issue is somewhat murky. Watermaidens have never, of course, pledged allegiance to any specific court, and have thus argued that they are not required to respond to any fee decree or Court summons, and may use their own judgement to manage any perceived or real threat, without consulting a Court. Interactions with mortals, however, typically fall under the regulation of the Courts, and these particular watermaidens, of course, had been charged with the guardianship of the lake and the monsters in the caves below by three separate Courts.

28. An Ambassador at the Court of the Seven Red Stars, argued that drastic measures—for example, restoring the lake to its earlier, crystalline state—could potentially cause more harm than it would mitigate, since even the most dull-witted mortal would question the rapidity of the change. Other officials at that Court argued that it was only fair for mortals, as the instigators of the pollution in the first place, to suffer the consequences—even if some of those consequences were originally of supernatural origin.

29. This official count is probably an undercount. Other estimates suggest that over 7000 mortals and others died as a direct or indirect result of the predation, which may have occurred over a period of forty years.

30. As of this writing, muck continues to cover the bottom of the lake, and the waters remain brown and obscure. If the gates to the underwater caves have opened again, allowing the denizens there to depart, this cannot be determined from the surface. Birds and other wildlife, however, continue to return in greater numbers every year, and watermaidens have been spotted at the north of the lake, filtering some of the water through their translucent hands.

Podcast Episode 27: A Song Born

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Hey, yes, it’s me, Michael J. DeLuca, and today on the Reckoning podcast I will be reading you what turns out to be the last of our Utopia Award nominees that will appear here, Remi Skytterstad’s novelette about the colonization of the Sami people of Norway, “A Song Born”. We had six nominations total, but the last two are for Tracy Whiteside’s artwork series “Too Hot to Handle”, which is awesome but doesn’t translate well to audio, and for Reckoning 5 itself, thanks to editors Cecile Cristofari and Leah Bobet, without whom we wouldn’t have been able to bring any of this amazing work to light.

As with Oyedotun’s story last week, though I have had ample help from Remi, I must ask you to bear with my clumsy pronunciation and assume responsibility for any f-ups.

Voting for the Utopia Awards is open now through August 21st. Please go vote? You can find the link here at or on twitter.

And our fundraiser is still on, and I’m very pleased to announce we have passed the threshold that will allow us to raise payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry. Hooray! And thank you! Now we get to move on to other worthy goals like paying our staff more than the token honorarium they currently receive, and putting out a print edition of Our Beautiful Reward, our forthcoming special issue on bodily autonomy, edited by Catherine Rockwood. We have now laid eyes on the vulva monster Mona Robles made us for the cover, and it is brain-scramblingly good. You can find out how to help make that happen at

[Bio below.]

“A Song Born” by Remi Skytterstad


The mangroves inhale her, a buzzing, air-thick, knotted world. She has seen eighty-one years of their change—

Eighty-two? Perhaps eighty. The decades, like the roots, tangle themselves together, extend into murky depths. In her best sturdy shoes, Sik pads as quickly as she can over the silt. Her soles squelch in the softened edges. Brackish water laps at her feet, languid but somehow alive, thrumming with far-out currents. She thinks she catches the glint of crocodile eyes, but it sinks beneath the surface before she can be sure. Around the mud-flats, mottled brown crabs cling to the trees, make her mouth water with the pickled-vinegar memory, the porridge dinners. But no time for hearty meals now. She scuttles along.

The insects whine in a pulse; Sik absorbs it and her own blood hums in response. The paper flutter of wings, somewhere in the speckled canopy. She catches its tailstream the way her mother once taught her; her soul soars for a heightened breath and a flash of vivid, blurring colour before ripping away. She doubles over, groaning. Suddenly she is sweating more than she already was. That is a muscle she has not stretched in many years. Why, when there are now cameras and film and radios to bring the sights and sounds to you? She imagines what her mother would say: Careless. Arrogant. Rootless. Jam bhoi sang tao lai. You can’t have it both ways.

Still, in that one soaring glimpse through the crow’s eyes, she saw what she needed to see. They are coming.

She catches her breath and then picks up her pace, hobbling through the swamp. Her hospital gown snags on branches. The roots attempt to trip her; she drags one foot and then another over. Those muscles are also not what they once were. But she will not need them for much longer. Kuh, kuh, kuh. The bird coughs out its own song, but Sik hears familiar Teochew syllables. Go, go, go.

She goes, goes, goes. There was a time the mangrove forest grew every year, but there are few saplings now that the islanders have set their sights on more romantic plants to populate the land. All these trees are as old as she is. Older. As comforting as that is, it makes her ache. Not many choose to come here any longer. What will happen when they are outgrown?

Her foot catches on a jut of rock and she falls. Her knees nearly crumple with the impact and she hisses under her breath. Even now worrying about the future, she scolds herself, dusting off the sand and pushing herself to her feet.

The fall and the thoughts have cost her a precious minute, however. A hum of an approaching disturbance vibrates through the roots, sending the water shivering. Loud, clumsy, but too-fast footsteps, faster than she is. As she hobbles deeper into the swamp the trees seem to lean in—embracing, shielding, capturing, their earthy, slightly saline scent turning the air viscous. She does not know what she is looking for, exactly, but she will know it when she sees it. Hurry, hurry. An owl hoots low overhead. A flutter of white feathers. The shape of a woman sailing into the corner of her eye. Sik whips around, but it’s only her own shadow racing over the water’s surface. Her heart pounds nonetheless.

Then she looks across the bank and sees it. The spot at the edge of the water. The trees around it bow gently away, skirting the copse with their many legs to create a waiting little bay.

Hurriedly she finds the shallowest part of the water and splashes across. Some slithery brown creature jolts away from her in a panic. She scrabbles onto the opposite bank and drops onto the soil, panting. When she’s collected herself, she lets the swamp sink back in, and she knows she’s found the place.

The island has changed so rapidly her memories are stuttered instead of smooth. Suddenly, skyscrapers. Suddenly, condominiums. Suddenly, no more kampungs and only trishaws for tourists, and suddenly her children are speaking English and going to holidays in Japan every year, and suddenly, the city is unrecognisable. She does not always know if it still has a space for her, too old to learn the new ways, left behind in an island that no longer exists. But the mangroves have a place for her. This place, for her. It recognises her, the soil moulding soft around her limbs and the trees around her protecting.

She shuts her eyes briefly to the hum and chirping, the slosh of the slowed tides. She remembers times out in her father’s fishing boat that the waves were not docile like this. They roared, black and spitting, threatening to upend the world. But the mangroves keep them safe from those waves; they tame them. She remembers a time when the mangroves wrapped the island. Now they cling in scraggly patches to the coast, replaced by factories and farms and slim pretty trees with concrete-stunted roots, and the dragon tides lick their lips at the land.


Sik’s eyes fly open. Bursting onto the opposite bank, tripping and cursing and sweating and wide-eyed, are her three children. She swears under her breath. She has to do it now.

She yanks off her shoes as her oldest son, Ah Seng, starts making his way across the shallows. He lunges forward, but she thrusts her feet into the water before he reaches her. The mud closes around her ankles.

“Go away, Ah Seng!” He’s reached her now; she bats him away as he tries to pull her up. Her daughter and her youngest son, Ah Mui and Ah Yik, have started across as well, although Ah Yik’s face twists as his expensive shoes touch the water.

“Ma,” Ah Mui pleads from a distance. “Please come home. We already prepared the plot.”

“I told you I don’t want that plot right! I told you I wanted to come to the mangroves!” She finds the sudden strength to wrestle Ah Seng. A renewed energy has begun seeping into her veins, a new solidity firming up her muscles so badly ravaged by the illness. She sucks in a vicious breath. She has not felt this strong for many years. “You never listen to what I say, and you still dare be shocked.”

“Who wants to come to the mangroves!” Ah Yik throws up his hands. He has abandoned his wading attempt and returned to dry land. His fancy shirt is soaked through, and it reminds her suddenly of him as a little boy wet from playing in the rain. She knows all his business partners call him Richard, but he will always be Ah Yik to her, the chubby child with his singlet turned translucent, wet hair dripping into his Milo. “You don’t know what they’re going to have to do to them in ten, twenty years—”

“In the park you have protection; we can look after you there,” Ah Seng says, but his despairing expression, and the way he steps back from her, knows it is a lost battle. He can see the roots already twining up her legs.

Ah Mui is still trying. “We paid the shaman for a beautiful flower tree—”

“Flower tree! Flower tree do what? Let people pick only. Look nice nice in the park, hor? Let lightning strike only.” Sik thumps her chest, which echoes like a drum. “My ah gong died in the war, you know! He fought against the Japanese. He never get to choose his path, but he die to protect the island, you think I want to be a flower tree! I old already, don’t care about being beautiful. I don’t need you to protect me.” Ah Mui opens her mouth, but Sik cuts her off. “Need shaman somemore. Here, the old magic all connected, don’t need anything but your spirit. Huh? You watch. You learn. Maybe when your time comes you will choose to be useful also, instead of become those trees that will blow over in a monsoon! Burden everyone only.”

Her children exchange wary looks, one eye still on her as though surrounding a wounded animal. Sik sighs, even as she feels her spine straighten, her ribs begin knitting together. The magic has not yet reached her soft heart. “Come, lah,” she says gently, reaching forward as much as her stiffened torso will allow. “Don’t fight already.”

After a fractured pause, Ah Mui is the first to stumble forward and fall awkwardly into her mother’s browning arms. Sik kisses her forehead, the way she did when Mui was a girl. When Ah Mui pulls away her eyes are glistening and she sniffles.

Ah Seng gruffly holds her for one, three, five seconds, tucking his head in the crook of her neck. “Bye, Ma.”

Ah Yik hesitates. Then, finally, he puts his feet in the water and trudges over to her. He brushes against her roots, but it doesn’t hurt. His arms go around her, and by now she can’t feel his chest rising and falling against hers, but she feels his chin shuddering against her shoulder. “Aiya,” she croons, patting him stiffly on the back. Her hands are starting to harden, grow rough. “It’s okay one, Ah Yik. The path not so hard. Can always come see Ah Ma.”

When Ah Yik steps away, they are all three standing in front of her. Mui’s arms are wrapped around her; Ah Yik has his hands shoved in his pockets. Ah Seng worries the hem of his shirt. Sik smiles at them as her fingers knot and lengthen, as her hair thickens and spreads, as her roots sink deeper and further into the swamp and the land. Her view of the children fades, and in its place rises a warm wind of greater consciousness. She sees the crocodile lazy on the water’s edge; the hornbill that watches for prey; the spider weaving its web. She sees the island curving into the horizon. The boats that bob against the skyline; the buildings that perforate it. The bustling port and the floating market, the dusting of trees along pin-straight roads.

Faintly, as she sinks into the swamp, she is aware of hands gently resting on her sides, cheeks against her branches, and three soft, steady pulses merging slowly into one. An old instinct swims hazily to the surface, melds into the new. I will protect you, she murmurs, and then she slips and twines and tilts her head upward, roots steadfast in the earth and arms reaching toward the sun.

Podcast Episode 26: All We Have Left Is Ourselves

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Welcome back to the Reckoning Press Podcast. Today, I, Michael J. DeLuca, am going to read you Oyedotun Damilola Muees’ PEN Robert J. Dau Prize Winning and Utopia-nominated story, “All We Have Left Is Ourselves” from Reckoning 5. I going to need to ask you to bear with me. This heartbreaking story about living with the consequences of corporate environmental exploitation is written in a culture and an English vernacular far from my own. I’ve had help, I’ve been practicing for this, psyching myself up. Oyedotun says my pronunciation’s not bad, it doesn’t have to be perfect. All my time reading Nigerian twitter at 5AM instead of writing is about to pay off!

Voting for the Utopia Awards is open now through August 21st. We’ve been podcasting the nominated work over the past few episodes, and next week if all goes well I’ll have Remi Skytterstad’s nominated novelette, “A Song Born”. Please go vote; you can find the link at or on twitter.

Our fundraiser is still on, we are oh so close to being able to raise payrates to 10c/word, $50/page for poetry, and I have been out in the woods and fields collecting blackberry prickers in my hands so I can offer Patreon supporters some delicious wild preserves. Don’t let my suffering have been in vain! Just kidding, I love it. Anyway, you can read about the fundraiser at

[Bio below.]

All We Have Left Is Ourselves by Oyedotun Damilola Muees

Nature’s Chosen Pronouns

*after Greta Gaard’s Toward a Queer Ecofeminism

But maybe nature isn’t even

a “her” . . . . When nature is feminized

and thereby erotized,

and culture is masculinized*,

the trouble starts, and it’s the bad kind.

When the girl puts on a summer dress:

“she’s asking for it”.

When the soil is “too rich not to steal”:

“she’s asking for it”.

When the non-westernized have (better)

non-reproductive sex and more

than two genders:

“they’re asking for it”.

So stop

the farther occupation of flesh,

of bodies made of earth.

Cut the virile organ

of colonization

before it brings more death

and the death of desire:

compulsory heterosexuality,

the age of the missionary,

with the conqueror “on top.”*

Podcast Episode 25: when the coral copies our fashion advice

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Hi, it’s me again, Reckoning publisher Michael J. DeLuca, reporting from droughted, heatwave-beset northeastern North America. Is it brutally hot and dry where you are? Is your representative democracy hamstrung by corruption?

While you’re waiting around for the revolution, cool off with me for a minute or two and listen to Ashley Bao read her effervescent, beachy-apocalyptic poem, “when the coral copies our fashion advice”. This is the second of five podcast episodes featuring our Utopia Award nominees from Reckoning 5.

The Utopia Awards, organized by Android Press as part of CliFiCon22, will be up for public vote between August 1 – 21, and winners will be announced at the conference in October. We really hope you’ll listen and be inspired to vote. I’ll include links to the voting pages here once they’re live.

Also, in case you missed it: we’re having a fundraiser! We’d love to pay everyone better and give more folks a chance to feel invested in this undertaking while making more cool stuff and amplifying more radical, revolutionary, restorative ideas. There will be rewards! Take this opportunity to sport some antifascist, pro-environmental justice Reckoning bling. Maybe win a personal critique of your writing from one of our editors. Or encourage our staff to generate some bespoke educational content on how to make the world a more livable place from right in your own backyard or local biosphere preserve. Come on over to to learn more.

[Bio below.]

when the coral copies our fashion advice by Ashley Bao

Apology for the Divine Masculine

“And the ship, the black freighter,

disappears out to sea, and on it is me.”


Wetlands become one with the rising gulf

as oil rigs drink the earth’s secret juices

and phallic man-made things do other rapey things

to things to which we have ascribed yonic features

and so forth in a pastiche of sexes assigned

to things that never asked not to be sexless.

Does Mother Earth apologize when she

retaliates, swallowing swamp towns

and eating away at the foundations

of coastal cities, as my mother made

my sister and me apologize to our

abuser if ever we fought back?

If a drop of water fell

for each time I apologized for no reason

(besides that I grew up Baptist, believed

that God-on-Earth was tortured so God-up-There

would forgive me for being what He made me),

I’d sail across a sea of sorries,

beg mercy for reaching the shore,

and fall into the arms of the first

brute to excuse me for loving him.

Once, a middle-aged sorceress told me I’d never find love

unless I wrote an apology to the divine masculine for always

expecting the worst of him, and I told her, honey, not until he

writes me one for always proving me right. Once, a friend

told me that apologizing was my most feminine trait, as if

I weren’t cooking dinner in heels and a backless dress, as if

femininity were skin I’d like to shed, and I said I apologized

for all men who wouldn’t do the same, except, no, how

could I apologize for something I’d been assigned—

male, boy, man, him—but never really been?

If Mother Earth covers her face

in a veil of liquid blue shame

for what we’ve done to her

then I will not be sorry

it was her language,

not his, I learned.

Podcast Episode 24: On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats

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Hi, it’s me, your nominal host, Michael J. DeLuca. Today on the Reckoning Press podcast we have for you Reckoning 7 nonfiction editor Priya Chand introducing and reading her Utopia-nominated essay, “On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats”. This is the first in a series of what will hopefully be five episodes highlighting work from Reckoning 5 nominated for the inaugural Utopia Awards.

The Utopia Awards, organized by Android Press as part of CliFiCon22, will be up for public vote between August 1 – 21, and winners will be announced at the conference in October. We really hope you’ll listen and be inspired to vote. I’ll include links to the voting pages here once they’re live.

My pitch for Priya’s essay is as follows: she’s doing what solarpunk fiction projects, and she’s encountering the complexities and conflicts of the real world making that work harder, more fraught. It’s the work we all need to be doing. Follow Priya’s example.

Also, in case you missed it: we’re having a fundraiser! We’d love to pay everyone better and give more folks a chance to feel invested in this undertaking while making more cool stuff and amplifying more radical, revolutionary, restorative ideas. There will be rewards! Take this opportunity to sport some antifascist, pro-environmental justice Reckoning bling. Maybe win a personal critique of your writing from one of our editors. Or encourage our staff to generate some bespoke educational content on how to make the world a more livable place from right in your own backyard or local biosphere preserve. Come on over to to learn more.

[Bio below.]

“On the Destruction and Restoration of Habitats” by Priya Chand

Sweetwater, Poison

Last September, they told us not to drink the water.

Our water, from our river, the same water that’s cooled every summer thirst, washed every dish at every birthday party, rinsed the sap off every Christmas since the day I was born.

The advisory was only a precaution, the news broadcast reassured us, but the Food Lion and Harris Teeter shelves were empty in hours flat. Even the Smartwater, the Fiji, the fancy-pants expensive stuff no North Carolinian in their right mind would ever buy in bulk—every case was gone.

Up the river in Fayetteville, the DuPont team responsible for the release of the chemical driving the drinking ban was gathered in some PR war room, but downstream, we turned to sweet tea, lemonade, coffee, orange juice, every other thing in the fridge, always starting for the tap and remembering just as we began to turn it.

But of course, some people went right on drinking the water, just like some people have parties on the beach during Category 4 storms, because this is the Carolina coast and we are nothing if not accustomed to disaster.

This was before Florence, when we had enough distance from a truly bad storm to cheer on the fledgling squalls spiraling off the Gulf Coast, craving the respite from life and school they would bring. And if they ever threatened with any seriousness to arrive, it was a crude, manic, festive vacation, as we boarded up windows, spray-painting challenges or prayers on plywood, surfers racing for storm swell as the ocean churned and they howled the joy of getting waves as close to California big as our east coast shore could ever muster.

In Wilmington, North Carolina, our history is made up of pirates, hiding behind piny shoals from the law, of stubborn generals in the last bastion of the civil war, flowering azalea, cobblestones, steeples on every corner, college basketball and hurricane parties, and so some people flapped their hands, scoffed at science, and went right on drinking the water.

In the coming months, clumsy local-news reporting fed us the piece-meal story: Once upon a time, DuPont, nee Chemours, manufactured shiny new Teflon upstream in Fayetteville, and to make it extra-shiny, they used a chemical (and I swear this is the name, though I know it sounds like a comic book kryptonite) called GenX. It flowed with the rest of the sludge deemed safe into the Cape Fear River. And one day, in a series of routine tests, they found it in the drinking water. Someone saw the results and rang the alarm bells, even if they didn’t know what they were ringing them for.

The impacts of GenX on human health are unclear. It’s a new chemical, one of many PFAs beginning to be called “forever chemicals”, developed as a replacement for the blacklisted PBDEs of the 1980s. They exist in a kind of grey regulatory limbo, not yet classified as toxic or completely cleared. They’ve caused cancer in some lab rats—news that makes your stomach turn when you turn on your tap—but it hasn’t been enough for companies to forgo their profitable use.

What was clear, though, was that the bottled Fiji water my more nervous neighbors were using to brush their teeth with wasn’t going to do any good. GenX had been in our water for almost a decade already, at 130,000 parts per trillion. If it was going to hurt us, the damage was done.

So there was a great Southern shrug, and we all turned on our taps. Just like turning up the music at a hurricane party as the winds howl. What’s done is done, what’ll come will come.

Meanwhile, every agency with an acronym east of Raleigh was floundering. The bogeyman of this long-term mystery molecule was proving impossible to wrangle, harder even than the coal ash spill from a few years back in the same long-suffering river. Suddenly its presence in the water and its questionable past were splayed out on scrolling cable news bulletins night after night. There were town halls packed full of scared angry people who wanted to know what was in their water, and the harried municipal inspector fresh out of school, the underpaid chemists from the treatment plant—they all had to tell their neighbors: we don’t know.

Let me be very clear: Wilmington is not Flint, Michigan. Environmental disasters always disproportionately affect already marginalized communities, hitting hardest the people who can’t afford a case of Fiji water or people in food deserts who walk to the corner store for groceries and couldn’t carry five cases even if they could afford it. And parallels of negligence are certainly present. But GenX isn’t lead. Our children aren’t dying. And our elected officials were blindsided by its presence in our water, just like us, even if the Chemours executives were not.

This is the place I am from: where a river only this year after tireless fighting has stopped carrying a wild-card chemical downstream into the taps of everyone I know and love, where coal ash was spilled in the same waters a few years back and there was never just restitution, Where surrounding farmland is plagued by algae-choked lakes, animal refuse is dumped with abandon as factory farms go unregulated, where building codes allow brand sparkling new oceanfront construction for the revenue they will generate despite the constant sea level rise and erosion, where people stare stubbornly into the eyes of storms like Florence, which took seventeen lives and left my hometown an island, which worsen with every passing year.

This is the place I live now: where I sit in a classroom in Maine and listen as a professor talks about the sublime American wilderness, where I major in a field of study centered around the ‘environment’, in a town where farmer’s markets dot the village green and grocery stores have started charging per plastic bag.

I write these words on a scientific station off the coast of Canada on a summer arts fellowship, with hundreds of miles of ocean between me and a factory, where we count with care the eggs of even the common gull and are careful not to let even hand soap contaminate the nesting sites of sparrows, where at night the only visible sign of human industry under the stars with the milky way caressing their swirling center is the lighthouses to the south and north. I am paid two dollars an hour more than the minimum wage in my state to write poetry about storm petrels and honeybees and the fog rolling in from the sea.

And at first glance, this makes sense to me. After all, there are places like Kent Island, and places like Wilmington. There and Here.

When most people talk about the environment, they mean Kent Island and the jungles of Belize, beautiful wondrous pristine places, distant places, There.

But beer cans in estuaries and a state park with trails layered over tore-up old motorbike paths, and the muddy river under fourth of July fireworks flowing, and the creek behind the subdivision, and the GenX flowing downstream—the environment is hiding Here, too.

There is an incredible contempt in America for the middle landscape—a term environmental scholars use to describe places like Here. Not catastrophe and ruin, oil spills or garbage dumps or black-lung from coal or the radium-girl shocking headlines from old factories, but the Here—the backyard grass that needs mowing.

But the problems in our thinking are the hardest to shift, especially when the pull of the There is so deeply ingrained, and we are all forced to deal with the drudgery and carnage of the Here.

Like the officials in my home town with their alarmist call to turn off the taps or like the DuPont inspectors who said nothing all those years, it is either feast or famine with the American imagination. We invoke a love of Nature to save the redwoods, while it isn’t even a word we connect with planted petunias on overpasses or roots scrabbling up in vacant lots.

No one is paying me to write poems about the flooded cobblestones on 3rd Street after the hurricane, greasy with sunscreen and gasoline, about the retention pond my dad and I fished in, always catching turtles on accident; no one is paying me to write poems about the bare shelves of Food Lion, even the Fiji water gone.

But maybe the answer is that I will anyway. Because I am sitting in this pristine paradise with all the privilege that comes along with it, and I’m telling you: they’re the same gulls circling overhead, the same goldenrod that grows along the highway in the place I am from. At home and far afield I have the same right to clean air and water and a livable planet, regardless of how well it translates into our romantic ideals of wilderness.

The “environment” is of no use to us if it ceases to exist where it cannot fit easily into poems like “Leaves of Grass” or even “The Wasteland”. Feast or famine are not the ways to live in the world. The power of activism spurred by imagination is futile if our contempt for the middle landscape blinds us to the necessity of change.

We all live in landscapes that shapeshift, passing through blurring borders of Here and There. It can seem impossibly incongruent: the carelessness of a tossed-aside beer can on a commercial shore and the gentle fastening of a thousand-dollar tracker to the wing of a burrowing grey bird.

But I am learning to blur these lines, to unhitch my sense of beauty from an obligation to perfection. Like anyone with the privilege to experience such beauty, I must grapple with my longing to always live on Kent Island, to set these places on their pedestals. I know that my hometown’s muddy river water is not truly separate from the waters crashing on this untouched shore. It is all flowing from the same headwaters; we all live downstream.

Podcast Episode 23: Sold for Parts

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Today on the Reckoning Press podcast we have Catherine Rockwood reading Nicole Bade’s quiet flash story “Sold for Parts”, about surviving, coping, in a world of loss. This piece seems particularly relevant here in the U.S., after a series of Supreme Court decisions that signals a precipitous erosion of rights, hope for safety and well-being and progress towards justice of all kinds, for everyone.

I hope listening to it provides you some solace, a little peace.

In case you haven’t heard, we’ve just announced a new submission call for a special issue about bodily autonomy and environmental justice, Our Beautiful Reward, edited by none other than Catherine Rockwood. To read that call and submit, you can go to

We’re also running our first-ever fundraiser, with the goal of raising payrates for writers, staff, and podcast readers, potentially producing a print edition of Catherine’s special issue featuring cover art by Mona Robles, and including cool rewards like pins, t-shirts, personal story critiques from some of our editors past and present, and other weirder fun stuff. Go to for details.

Thank you for listening!

[Bios below.]

“Sold for Parts” by Nicole Bade