My Sister, Hog Island, July Afternoon by E.A. Giorgi
Managing editor Krys Malcolm Belc on today’s bonus essay: The speaker in this piece explores a memory of her sister's teenage self, teenage form, intensely anchored to a trip to an unusual island on the outskirts of Philadelphia. This island, mesmerizing in its blend of the mechanical and the natural, provides a perfect setting for this exploration of sisterhood and longing.
My Sister, Hog Island, July Afternoon
In southern Philadelphia there’s a place called Hog Island, a place just barely in the city and only because the city itself is so salamander-sprawled—if the bogs and marshes in the far Northeast can be inside the city limits then why not here, too, this small island in the Delaware River, past docks moored with the rusted hulks of old warships, past the empty washes of plastic-strewn grass and the clover curl of interstates, past the oil refinery that is something like a giant insect and something like an island itself, a mountain of rusted tubing that shoots eternal fire into the sky.
A long time ago they set hogs loose on Hog Island—hence the name—letting them fatten themselves and forgetting them until the slaughter, all that water a natural pen. But now Hog Island is home mainly to the Philadelphia International Airport, and also, tucked into a forgotten corner, the remains of a Revolutionary War fort that is supposed to be one of the most haunted places in America.
I took my sister there one afternoon, the summer she was 14.
We explored the ruins, ducking into all the damp Revolutionary War bunkers built like spring houses into the mantle of the earth, the interiors dark like caves are dark, like every other kind of matter is more permeable, more transparent, than soil. And we pictured the soldiers there however long ago, bunked in their rooms like caves or tombs or just rooms beneath the earth, praying or reading or whatever people did back then by the light of a guttering candle. And when we came back out into the sun I asked my sister if she’d seen any ghosts, and she said that she thought she might have heard a voice, just a small one, just barely and just maybe. And I said, well what did it say, and she said, well it sounded like it was talking to us. It sounded like it said, ‘Please be quiet.’
Which is funny—because outside the fort, right outside where you turn down its quarter-mile drive, there’s a place where you can pull your car over above a small run of water stuffed with grasses and cattails, and lean on the hood and watch the planes pass overhead as they come into the airport. They come in a constant stream, one landing on the runway behind you while above in the blue plain of the sky another turns, tilting into the descent.
After the fort my sister and I parked there for a while and watched them: one after another turning, straightening, and throttling down, passing straight over us roaring its incredible roar, so close you could pull up a ladder and touch it, so loud they blot out the sun.
We watched for a long time, not even trying to talk between, just letting the sound wash up and over like a wave and then recede out into the sound of insects buzzing and a frog or two singing out in the water in the hot July afternoon.
And I thought, imagine, after all this—after the hot sun and the miracle of metal sluicing sky and the jet engine roar receding into the eternal sounds of summer, cicada buzz and frog chorus and the breathing of the person next to you, after the sweet faint scent of deodorant and even fainter scent of soap rising in the humid air, after the shaking of the ground that travels up through all the bones of your body, after the smell of marsh and the swish of cattails, the feel of the breeze and the warmth of the sun and the sound and the scent of the person next to you—imagine, after all that, if all you could want was the quiet? The damp dark of the earth, the final and irrevocable solitude, and the silence.
After the planes, my sister and I went to a diner where they still serve egg creams from a ready row of antique machines and the waiters still wear paper hats and still hang orders up above the silver counter between diners and kitchen. My sister—14 and skinny and shy beneath the dim florescent lights—ordered a plain side salad and I asked her, don’t you want something more? And she said no. So I ordered us a basket of fries for the table, and a milkshake, because.
E.A. Giorgi is a poet and nonfiction writer whose work explores—among other topics—the intersections of science, the environment, and human experience. She received her MFA in creative writing & environment at Iowa State University, and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Utah, where she studies science communication. You can find more of her work in the most recent issue of Fourth Genre.