A Visit with Chris Offutt
The midwestern land has a softly undulating quality, like concentric circles spreading from a rock tossed into a farm pond. Before the giant plowing icebergs, water covered everything here. Often, I see the bottom of an ancient ocean quite clearly––the ripples left by forgotten tides, the gentle upsweeps of a reef––and I imagine that the land is still underwater. I possess gills in the woods and move against the resistance, exploring an abandoned sea.
Cloud shadows are great fish moving swiftly overhead. The prairie disappears into the glare of refracted sunlight fading with the depth, and becomes the living floorboards of an ocean. Jet contrails in the sky are a ships prow, cleaving the surface far away. Breath bubbles around my head as movement slows. Sound drifts into silence. I have slid out of my century and into an undersea past, alone with an uncaring force.
I am an alien here in the city. I don't belong, none of us does. Thumbs and cranium lucked us into our current status and we've traded curiosity for erosion. Dinosaurs evolved until their bodies were too big for their brains and they could not command their limbs. The human mind has outstripped its body––we are as ungainly as the last great lizard.
The rivers of the nation are only water now, no longer rivers in any sense, trickles mostly, filled with poison. In ten million years a stranger will explore this former sea, this former iceberg, this former prairie, and sift through our remains. Instead of spear points and mastadon bones he will find bits of plastic. I should be a rock sculptor, carving a mighty pantheon to rival the debris we left on the moon. The ashes of Alexander's library reveal the fragility of books.
–From Chris Offutt, The Same River Twice (Simon & Schuster, 1993) Prologue, pp. 9-10