I woke this morning to find
The river had up and left,
Left behind two carp, a tin can
A bottle of Mr. Boston,
Left its secrets of bodies and
Submerged pickups and
a watch that still worked.
I put the watch on and listened to
The river’s messages:
Millennia, halcyon days
Bereft of dams when Salmon
Leapt in its head waters.
The river had fallen in love with
A young biologist collecting
Crayfish and tad poles.
It wanted something
More than raw sewage.
Yes, it was a good garbage collector
And Mama Sea had said there
Were no unskilled jobs, but damn
It wanted to be young again
To be ten feet clear, as
Clear as a carp’s scales when you
Peel them off and find they are
Transparent. It wanted
More than anyone in town
Could properly give it. I had
Spent so many years ignoring
The river. I got up, knowing a certain
Smell was missing. A comforting
Stink by which reality could
Be more unconsciously engaged.
I didn’t know it was the river I had
Lost until someone told me.
It had moved on, found another
Alluvial plain, had made a break
Under cover of night, aided by
The Abolitionist stars.
They say the hounds sniffed nothing
Its flight through swamps
And industrial parks and the
Bucolic suburbs, with their green
And sterile carpets was utterly seamless.
It was as if some deft magician
had rolled it up:
This scroll of being we’d ignored
I stood in its dry bed, baffled
Not knowing how to feel
For an absence that had already
Been an absence.
Something told me I was culpable—
Complicit, perhaps I had forged its
Manacles, putting my IPod on shuffle
And driven over it, unsure even
How to spell its indigenous name.
Joe Weil is a piano player and story teller who grew up in industrial Elizabeth, New Jersey, where the river named after the city sometimes ran day glow colors, depending on what was being dumped into it. He is now an associate professor at Binghamton University. Weil’s poetry, reviews and quotes have appeared in the New Yorker, the Boston Review, Rattle, Paterson Literary Review, Poet Lore and The New York Times. His latest book is A Night in Duluth (NYQ books). He lives in Binghamton with his wife Emily, and children, Clare and Gabriel.