Sounds by Rita Ciresi

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areil satellite view of connecticutt, showing rivers into ocean


Niantic, Willimantic. Pattagansett, Hammonasset. Naugatuck, Saugatuck, Aspetuck. Shetucket. The Moodus and the Moosup. The Deep and the Salmon. The Fourmile, Five Mile, Eightmile, Tenmile.

I am seven years old. Our second grade teacher makes us memorize the Connecticut rivers.


I have yet to stand on the banks or drink from a single river. But their wondrous names echo in my head. At night I whisper them, like prayers.

I am the Mill and the Oyster.

The Still and the Mad.

The Mystic.


All Connecticut rivers empty into The Sound. But when I close my eyes on the beach, I hear more than one sound: seagulls cawing, waves washing onto the shore, the lowing of foghorns as oil barges pull into the harbor. I hear the hum of the sand beneath my head, children crying, and transistor radios playing The Eve of Destruction.


I’ve scooped polished rocks between my fingers, dropped clam shells in a plastic bucket, tossed seaweed at my sisters. But I’ve never held a bullfrog in my hand. Never touched a turtle.


Who named the Housatonic and the Quinnipiac? Those men are not in our social studies book. But they’re in the word search our teacher hands out: Complete this puzzle hiding the names of the Indian tribes of Connecticut.


The sound of their names is even better than the sounds of the rivers. They are the Mohegan, Narragansett, Mashantucket, Mattabasec, Wabaquasett.


Oh, to be a Wabaquasett. Oh, to stand on a red mountain cliff and name the pure water running below me. Wash a bucket. Pass a locket. Wonder tucket. Man a luck it.


About rivers we learn there are tributaries and estuaries. There is a source and a mouth. We learn that Connecticut means besides the long tidal river and that the Connecticut River begins in New Hampshire.

We are outraged. What’s it doing there, when it belongs to us?


I am seven years old. I am taught the following: The Old Man of the Mountain belongs in New Hampshire. Pilgrims belong in Massachusetts. Indians belong in the woods. Men belong in factories. Women belong in the kitchen. Children belong at school. Rivers belong on calendars. Water belongs in the ocean.


But the ocean. Oh, the ocean. It goes BOOM-wah, BOOM-wah–a sorrowful sound that says it belongs to all of us.


rita ciresiRita Ciresi is author of the novels Bring Back My Body to Me, Pink Slip, Blue Italian, and Remind Me Again Why I Married You, and two award-winning story collections, Sometimes I Dream in Italian and Mother Rocket. She is professor of English at the University of South Florida, a faculty mentor for the Bay Path University MFA program in creative nonfiction, and fiction editor of 2 Bridges Review.




STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

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