I was about eleven years old when the US Army Corps of Engineers began construction on Terminus Dam, named, I presume, for the end of the Visalia Electric Railroad line where a resort of sorts was established at Terminus Beach for local music and all-night dancing during the summer. There was also a nine hole sand golf course in the area of this irrigation pond, north of the river, that was accessed by a footbridge across the Kaweah during the 30s. All was erased during the 1955 Flood. The family was embroiled in a Condemnation Action with the Federal government shortly thereafter. Construction was completed in 1962.
Currently at less than 25% capacity because of the drought, it was unnerving for me as a teenager working downstream when Lake Kaweah was full.
Early morning gather,
we occupy the foreground
close to corrals, the road,
a truck—short April grass.
Sort cows from calves—
weigh, wean and load
for fifty years since
they dammed the Kaweah
with another layer of man
we no longer notice
as we adapt like livestock
to the landscape.
All gone before my feet, the gray Kaweah raging foam
to the rumble of boulders underwater, scent of sulphur
above the cutbank, 1955. A black & white photograph
of lightbulb strings above the dance floor walled by sad,
round eyes of dark cars with real fenders, simple grins and
children, secured in my mind before washing downstream.
A temporary place deposited along the river, croaking cattails
with bullfrogs, fuzzy moonshine shadows, smell of slow water,
gasp of lovers steaming on a warm breeze beyond the fiddling
and motion glowing within a black and buggy summer night,
I imagine I might have liked before the war changed everything,
and nothing, at the same time. The rumble of certain words
resonates beneath the surface, slow roll and grind, a winnowing
of cobbles and sand suspended in floods of feeling – when chunks
of cold, molten mountains remade the riverbed before the dam.