POEM: The middle branch

The river is a strong brown god, indeed–brown
with pollution, sullen with waste, forgotten by
those who worship the machine. The machine
does its duty and the transit bus passes by,
roaring with smoke; the driver does not notice
the Canada geese browsing by the side
of the road, but I do, who worship Antinous
and not the machine, who use the machine
but consider myself sister to the geese,
to the egret, the heron, the several species
of gull, the stubborn thistle thrusting up
in a patch of grass by the bus stop,
the mockingbirds nesting in a useless vine
trailing across a chain-link fence enclosing
waste, decay, poisoned earth sealed off,
the burying-ground of progress. This is
the middle branch of the Patapsco River,
the eddying mouth of its thirty-nine mile length,
the backwater of its harbor that welcomes
freighters and tourists both, the end
of its 680-square-mile watershed. This is
where I live; this is the god that gathered us
here, European settlers, where no doubt
Algonquin natives gathered first, who left
their impronounceable name on the river.

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O Antinous, deified in the Nile, blessed
by Hapi of the swelling breasts, child
of the Rhebas, brother of Alpheios,
bless our Patapsco, bless its middle branch,
bless the birds who nest there, the ground-hogs
hiding in the brush, the snakes in the woody
patches where Silvanus and Faunus hold sway.
Bless the tourists and the ships who bring
prosperity to the people, bless the workers
riding on the buses past the incinerator,
bless the light rail as it glides over the water,
the river is within us, the sea is all about us,
and you, Antinous, may you be always with us.

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