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Martha Vallely


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In Minot, 4100 homes were inundated.
Not enough sandbags in all of North Dakota.



In Velva, 20 miles up the road,
the National Guard built the levy up eight feet—
and it held.



The highway to Velva mimics the Souris River.
The trees along its banks, gray dead below
green above, mimic the floodline.



The flood cancelled the 4th of July.
Rescue Appreciation Day gets the fireworks and the parade.
We cheer the National Guard
and the teens who spent months sandbagging farms.



We watch the children scoop up candy,
listen to the Governor's speech,
wipe our eyes, cheer some more.
I marvel at how the woman beside me got born so beautiful.

When Backward Is Forward and Forward Is Backward

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The Chicago River runs backward.
Engineers tried it first in 1871, succeeded in 1900.

In Grant Park, Saint-Gaudens' Seated Lincoln
stares down in contemplation and sorrow,
lonely, the Civil War weighing on him.
When I was alone there, I traced the carved letters, danced.

Forcing the river to run backward won an award:
the Civil Engineering Monument of the Millennium.

When I was a child, Lincoln was the writer I most admired,
the one who made me want to write.
Hanging out at his statue
was comforting in an odd sweet sort of way.

In wintertime, deep down, the Chicago River
flows forward, slips into Lake Michigan. No one can stop it.

The President's Car Is Called Ground Force One, Cadillac One, and Stagecoach

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Our President's "Cadillac" is built on a GMC truck chassis.
Eight-inch thick military-grade armor covers the entire body.
The bottom is antibomb-plated and the gas tank void-filled with foam.

McKinley was the first president to ride in an automobile.
Theodore Roosevelt's Stanley Steamer was the first government car.
Warren Harding had a Packard, Coolidge the first White House Cadillac.

Barack Obama's car weighs 14,000 to 16,000 pounds.
It has Kevlar runflat tires and is sealed against chemical attack.
Not even natural light can penetrate the bulletproof windows.

After Pearl Harbor, FDR rode in Al Capone's seized armored car.
But for most of World War II, he rode in an open touring Lincoln.
He thought it was important for the president to see and be seen.

John Kennedy was killed in the back of an open blue limousine.
Today a Barrett M82 sniper rifle is street legal.
Get in the car, Mr. President, get in the car for all our sakes.

Jury Duty

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Not judge like judges but like yourselves.     Walt Whitman

Hundreds of people packed into the jury room
first day of the week and
the second name called is mine.
A domestic violence case,
a crime so prevalent, it's hard to fill a jury.
In my small pool of 13,
one woman had been abused,
two women were nurses who treat abuse victims
and one man's sister was so badly beaten
by her husband, he is still in jail seven years later.
They've already been through 50 possibles,
so how many objections could they have left?
They need one more juror and it's me.

Maybe I should have said I could not be fair
that I always side with the woman
assume the man is guilty.
I worry I'm a traitor to women for thinking
I can be an impartial "judge of the facts."

I believe the 911 tape.
The fear on it slips into the courtroom,
the woman's voice
telling her address first/fast
so they can get to her before her boyfriend
carries out his repeated threat:
I'm gonna kill you, bitch.
She escapes to the elevator
but not quickly enough.
I believe the neighbor:
how the woman's boobs were hanging out of the shirt
the man had ripped open,
how he claimed he loved her, then hit her again.

The defense attorney says tomorrow
she'll tell us what really happened,
says the man will take the stand and tell it like it was.
Only he doesn't. He pleads guilty.
And I'm glad I was there
so when the woman spent the day on the witness stand
she didn't tell her story to an all-male jury.
Three women bore witness. I was one of them.

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