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Friday, February 22, 2013

Sunken Boats

My daughter drives us through the old delta, past the fish sign, into the town. The sea has receded one hundred miles. Pathetic man-made canals scar the foreground, reach outward to bring the waters back. 

Splotches of gray-green weed angle up through the pesticide poisons, search for the scorching sun.  We walk into the great basin, pace off distances between sunken boats, rusted hulks settled on an ancient seabed once busy with numinous fish, nibbling in amazing multitudes—a different time, a time of believers, when clouds and rain and children’s shallow splashing limned this Eden. 

Beyond the horizon, Resurrection Island, a facility for biological evil, no longer quarantined by water, issues its next weapons-grade plague, oozing ever outward to what once was the mainland, to a tangled remnant of human kind, hardened, awaiting new horrors.

A truck in a dust cocoon squeals to a stop on the access road, next to our car. Two men jump off, inspect their tires, all the while sizing us up, smelling for weakness fifty yards away. I’m walking towards them fast. I try to look unhesitant and threatening. They decide to leave, disappear, dust and all, into the sea’s desiccant fathoms.

Everyone is sick in Muynak: anemia, tuberculosis, cancers. Their future, like their sea, has ebbed away. People speak of death as a wandering friend, now returned, welcomed. Government officials, we’re told, arrive in packs almost monthly, wring their hands, and write reports that detail another five year plan.

The river that fed this sea and awed Alexander the Great, the Oxus, once mighty, dies in a desert hole, its strength siphoned by cotton crops: its former dreams of hurricane swells no longer viable. A river paradise turned phantom.

There used to be canning factories on the bluff, overlooking the harbor. Industry and the fish-harvest defined all the geography that mattered.

We pass beggars and street children losing color, depth; half wraith, they wave or beckon or both. It’s as if hell cannot maintain its solidity.

 A sand storm follows us south through Nukus: our windows sealed to no avail. Wild camels cross the road. They are cooked locally and eaten here by inhabitants of yurts.

 The momentary ado of an accident appears on the road. Someone has been killed. Hit and run, I think. We ease by.


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