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a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society

Mary Swander

The tubulent Swat River Pakhtunkhwa – Rabia O”Loren


During the 1993 flood my nanny goat gave birth to a kid named Noah. I heard Scalawag shriek and I raced out to the pen, pulling Noah out of a huge mud puddle. I carried him into the house, toweled him off, and fluffed his fur with a blow dryer. At the end of that summer I gave him to my friend Kelly who kept him as a pet on her acreage near the Iowa River.

In 2008 the floodwaters began to rise again. I called Kelly and left a message on her machine to come over to my place with her husband and the goat. I was high and dry.  Water had already filled Kelly’s basement. But the telephone lines were already under water, so Kelly never got the message. Instead, she called me that night to tell me that she had gotten out of the house, but she’d had to leave the goat with her husband Matt. She kept calling Matt to leave and take the goat to my house, but Matt wouldn’t leave.

Matt had made a bit of money that year and with the economy in the tank, he didn’t trust putting cash in the bank. He didn’t trust investments, so he put the money into gold. And he didn’t trust putting the gold in a safety deposit box, so he buried it on his acreage.

“All right,” I said, “I’ll drive over with the dog kennel and pick up the goat. Matt can stay with his gold.”

I hopped in my car and started down Highway 22, taking detour after detour to Kelly’s, the water covering the roads on my normal route. Then my cell phone rang.

“Abort the mission,” Kelly said. Matt had dug up the gold, but the water had suddenly risen so high that he had to be rescued by a farmer on a tall tractor. “You won’t be able to get there,” Kelly explained. Everything was under water. Matt had had to leave their three cats in the attic with a week’s worth of food, and Noah on the porch with a bale of hay.

The next day, Kelly tried to find someone with a boat to go in and rescue Noah. Once she did, the waters had risen so high and the current was so strong, that once again the mission was aborted. A couple of days passed. The flood worsened. We called the Humane Society, but they were so overwhelmed that no one was answering the phone. I called the sheriff but only received a busy signal. Finally, after several hours, someone came on the line.

“Listen, lady,” the dispatcher said. “We’re busy rescuing humans.”

Finally, Matt put on a life jacket and waded toward his home in chest high water. He found Noah on the porch with a fawn, the two of them sharing the bale of hay. After a week, the sheriff called and said he would go in in a boat, sedate the goat and rescue him. Kelly didn’t think a 15-year-old goat would make it through that procedure. So, Noah stayed on the porch for almost ten days, playing with the fawn until the water receded enough that we all walked off the Ark, ready to begin a new covenant.


Author Biography: 

In 2009, Governor Chet Culver appointed Mary Swander the Poet Laureate of the State of Iowa. Her most recent work is a book of poetry, The Girls on the Roof (Turning Point/Word Tech, 2009), a Mississippi River flood narrative. Swander is a Fellow of Black Earth Institute. She has worked with the Eulenspiegel Puppet Theatre to create a performance piece of The Girls for the stage. Currently, Swander is also touring her play Farmscape, a docudrama capturing the changing rural environment. She is the co-founder of Agarts, a national group designed to explore the intersection of the arts and agriculture, and is developing a website, The Iowa Literary Community, where anyone with an Iowa connection can post poetry and other pieces of writing.


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