The Bottom by John Struloeff

The Bottom

I once lived in a town that flooded.
The vast park with its picnic tables
and evenly spaced pine trees had turned
into a massive river, as if a brown glacier
had melted and filled the valley.
A few friends and I took a Jeep
to the park that night. The headlights
shone out onto this obsidian glass
that stretched to the house lights
a half mile ahead. Let’s do this,
my friend driving said, and we rolled forward.
Water rumbled beneath the floorboard
and washed along the bottom of the doors.
Then the front end dropped, the headlights
submerging into the brown murk
until everything was dark.
The Jeep had become unmoored
from the road, drifting sideways.
We grew silent. There was no one here
to see us if we rolled, and we now felt
the hidden urgency in the river.
He pounded the accelerator,
the engine roaring and gurgling. The water
was right at my shoulder against the glass.

Of course we survived, although I didn’t know
we would. There was still so far we had to go
before we drifted all through those pine
silhouettes, until we felt that leaning buoyancy
become firm ground, and the front lifted,
and the lights shone out again across
what remained of that black glass.
We learned later that eight people died
in that flood as it pushed its dark water
through homes and across fields and roads.
Twenty-four years now, and I think
I’m remembering it because I feel that
current again, silently moving into my life,
even though I can’t yet see the water.


John Struloeff grew up in the coastal rainforest of Oregon. He is the author of The Man I Was Supposed to Be (Loom Press) and The Work of a Genius (Finishing Line Press) and has published poems in The Atlantic, The Sun, Verse Daily, The Southern Review, Prairie Schooner, ZYZZYVA, PN Review, and elsewhere. He is a former Stegner and NEA Fellow and now directs the creative writing program at Pepperdine University.