The river I grew up on was rank
with oil. Shoreline stones
gleamed slick-blue and nothing
in the river was worth a slug
of scrap metal: carp and catfish,
sick, riddled with chemical blood.
My river was for barges,
owned by US Steel, ARMCO, J&L.
They pumped it full of slag,
dripped and drained oil and gas
through a thousand hidden holes.
Nothing good could come of it
except a living and life,
a whole valley's clinging dream.
The Indians who named it beautiful river
weren't wrong; how could they know
what would come, dark and sooty,
burning the sky, turning the earth
to mud and cinder.
Even in our terrible need
we couldn't kill it and the river
is coming back to river once again.
In the cold ruin of the Ohio's banks
muskies swim the secret paths below.
We grow older, the river younger,
and great fish smash into the air
to swallow a caterpillar
fallen from a willow branch.
The History of Steel
All Nations Press