Flat fields and plentiful rains—
this was, after all, called at one time
the Great Black Swamp—
meant ditches lined the fields and roads
to catch the runoff
and channel it safely away to
snaking creeks and rivers.
Mostly dry and benign,
these straight line gashes in the earth
could swell to muddy torrents,
rolling ribbons of brown,
eight feet deep after soaking rains.
Ditches for us kids were fun and work,
full of frogs, snakes, and even fish sometimes,
but also easily cluttered after a storm
with stones, branches, and litter
that had to be cleared,
especially from the large pipe
running under our driveway,
to prevent future flooding.
Many summer days we spent
hiking the ditches,
searching for specimens,
mud sucking off and swallowing our shoes,
or casting sticks or paper boats
when the water ran high,
to see whose won the race
from one end of the pipe
to the other.
Ditches also swallowed balls
and regurgitated reluctantly,
and opened their jaws
for bike and car crashes,
the latter almost always
occasioning the arrival of a
friendly farmer with a tractor and chain.
especially when the water was running,
was a childhood sport,
a running start and flying leap
to try to land high enough on the opposite bank
to avoid slip sliding down into the muck.
I suppose we were fortunate,
for all the time we spent slopping about
full of fertilizer- and pesticide-soaked runoff,
and occasional septic tank overflows,
to avoid dysentery and
a host of infections
that would otherwise have spoiled
all the fun.