Elegy for the Shenandoah River

Steve Scafidi

at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia 

The rivers meet become one and disappear
At the sea and the young find the solace
Of drugs and fucking. Falling-in-love

Is the story they tell later living a while
Maybe in misery or in joyful fits
Of circumstance dying off eventually

Leaving behind the meanings they made
Which dissolve in the rain over eons:
Houses and books and machines starting

To drizzle back into atoms loose like
Fires in the green bombast of the hillsides
And the town of Harpers Ferry and its

Brick walls full of bullets will go like this
River of forgetfulness where I am swimming
Tonight among the boulders in the cold

Because I am drunk and alone and hoping
To die to drown to be carried suddenly up
Side down blue screaming in the waters

Which has happened enough that death is part
Of what we celebrate here in the National Parks:
A perfect place to lie your body down in the dark.

More by Steve Scafidi

Something New Under the Sun

It would have to shine. And burn. And be 
a sign of something infinite and turn things 
and people nearby into their wilder selves 
and be dangerous to the ordinary nature of 
signs and glow like a tiny hole in space

to which a god presses his eye and stares. 
Or her eye. Some divine impossible stretch 
of the imagination where you and I are one. 
It would have to be something Martin Buber 
would say and, seeing it, point and rejoice.

It could be the mouth of a Coca-Cola bottle 
or two snakes rolling down a mountain trail. 
It would have to leap up out of the darkness 
of a theater and sing the high silky operatic 
note of someone in love. And run naked

slender fingers through the hair of a stranger, 
or your mother or father, or grandfather, or 
a grassy hill in West Virginia. It would live 
on berries and moss like a deer and roam 
the woods at night like the secret life of

the woods at night and when the sun rises you 
could see it and think it is yours and that 
would be enough and it would come to you 
as these words have come to me--slowly, 
tenderly, tangibly. Shy and meanderingly.

Pieta

Before she is turned away
  for the last time in the moment
before the new world begins
  harrowing her like a field

and the sun and moon disappear
  and the stars and the houses
suddenly become illustrations
  in a book no longer to be

believed burning to ashes—
  before the earth beneath her
rises up through her body
  slowly, every green cell

yellowing in the aftermath—
  just before this begins and
it begins constantly over
  and over in the secret nucleus

of mothers quietly humming
  at every second continuously
she breathes the odor of honey,
  his hair still the odor of honey.

Related Poems

Central Avenue Beach

 

—Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, 2016

 

1.

Just off of Highway 12, Sandburg’s signature
of time & eternity: the muggy marshes

& thick forests of the mind, sand that sings
its memory of glaciers & the glaciers before

them. 14,000 years of them. After
the Potawatomi got marched away & before

the steel makers’ smokestacks & the abandoned
Bailly Nuclear Plant cupped this lakeshore

like hands around a beach party’s last
dry match: Lake Michigan’s wide-brimmed

posture as close to an ocean as the scrub
brush, gulls, & rocks around here will get.  

 

2.

Every town around here
has a Central Avenue, complete
with blustery flags & home-
cooked meals. Blank storefronts
& churches next to other churches—
lake light filtering through
their stained glass windows
most sunny afternoons after 3pm.
Steeples, one after another,
like the Great Lakes’ waves
trying to blink constant sand
out of wet eyes. & at night, all  
of the avenue lights up. No street
lights, but stars & moon blinking
in agitated water while the industrial
lights on the fringes dim like blank
faces traced in constellations.

 

3.

Listen to the Sand
     Hill Cranes folding
into the dim fringes

of themselves
     like prayer hands.
Listen to the yellow

warblers clustered
     up in the middle
of knotted branches

like a hungry chorus
     in these perfectly
paused trees. Even

at night, the birds
     grab sand-swirled air
with nonchalant wings.

 

4.

In the day or at night, central is centrālis in Latin & means exactly
what the warblers, trees, & restless dunes think it means: ruffles
of sand between the angry human fist & the equally angry
human face of industry, deregulations & pollutants as uninvited
as the sea lamprey wiggling through the locks & canals.

 

5.

After the canals & their creaking locks
     & the oxidized ships & their bleary horns,

the sun edges the blue between cuffed waves
     & unrepentant shore. After gravity’s

insoluble gears pull all of this water away
     from Central Avenue & back to the center

& the fish swim away from shore through
     the gills of noises & sediment in that sideways

way fish do. In a lake this big, it’s possible
     to swim in circles all day & get no further

from the moon than this parade of whitecaps
     on the edges of the dunes. The same

frustrated tendencies of circle, these waves.
     The same cornered ingenuity, this great lake.

These dunes, always on the mainline’s wet
     cusp—polished, brocaded & fabulous.