The very name diminishes upon the page, like the hardscrabble heights
of Appalachia ramshackling into the glacier-scraped basin of Lake Erie,
a cracked shadow of the Eastern seaboard, where crazed Evangelists
pace their stages soaked in sweat while spewing bile and brimstone.
By now the sunset must be hacking up its orange and yellow phlegm
over Martins Ferry, as the remembering dead in Riverview keep vigil.
In Akron, black smoke no longer reeks from factories, no hoggees drive
tired mules beside the tired canal, that false river of commerce that fathered us.
James Wright, I neither love nor pity you. Ohio rasped and burnished us;
the grave scabs over, fastens, battens you. Now you are dead. I am not
yet. Yet a parched hour ploughs the page, accumulations of the calendar.
And so for us, James Wright, the hills and trillium were not enough,
and when we tried to grasp and heft, to take its measure, the buckeye’s burr
stuck into the substance of our flesh, pricked us in the center of our being.
On the Little Cuyahoga and Cuyahoga Rivers
after Charles Reznikoff
A rusted tributary flows beneath the street,
entombed in stench and sewage, under devilstrip
and sidewalk where the sewer rat and tomcat slip
among discarded tires and fast-food wrappers, feet
there pattering in polyrhythms, over beat-
up broken-down bicycle frames, glass shards, lost slip-
pers steeped in mud, syringes, asphalt chunks, bent dip-
sticks twisted into incoherence, cracked concrete.
The water of the river has been foul before
(Our Cuyahoga.): lice and frogs, flies, a murrain
upon the cattle, boils upon the men. The fires
in the mainstem—fruit of pestilence and plague—implore
us (Dęvęr or dāvār?), and calcinate the brain
into (Dāvār as dęvęr, then?) a sign that sires.