Brian Kiteley

Introduction to Kiteley's Poems


The Williamsburg Flood

May 16, George Chaney, overseer of the Mill River Reservoir, noticed a great smiling crack in the west side of the dam. He leapt on his horse and rode down to Williamsburg with the news, a distance of three miles. From there, other riders carried the word to Haydenville, Leeds, and Florence. The majority of people who worked and lived near the river escaped to higher ground, but 145 perished. A ten-foot wall of water swept everything along—people, houses, bridges, factories, trees, animals—all packed into a great mass of ruin. Witnesses say one man rode the flat roof of his small cabin about a mile downstream. He seemed unperturbed by the headlong rush—he sang at the top of his lungs, but no one could make out the lyrics. His life was taken at the large bridge that collapsed his home and himself in one mighty boom, before the bridge itself collapsed. Bricks, particularly, acted as if with minds of their own, forming eddies, separate streams, and gnashing pools of bright red. Some thought they looked like salmon in their suicidal spawning runs upriver, when the waters turn the color of blood. Bricks left on the banks of the river created nearly perfect road beds, except at steep angles. A fifteen-foot-tall metal wheel with fearsome teeth used in the cotton mill in Williamsburg rolled down the nearly solid river for miles, jumping over obstructions, at one point flying fifty feet in the air. It came to rest in a meadow eight miles from the original dam, and it lay there some twenty years as an unofficial memorial to the flood, before forest surrounded it and obscured its status.

From The River Gods

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