this land belonged to the
lenape, the Susquehannock,
the massawomeck — long
before you were born.
and they had names for water:
moi, oneega, o:ne:ka’. names for
mountain and for mud. they spoke
a polysynthetic syntax, now frag
-mented, not unlike their people.
but language, like the dinosaurs —
like parents — can become extinct,
can leave traces: the not-quite
noumena, the narrows, a word
water- wind-gap carved through
tuscarora quartzite, proving
presence with absence.
these same landscapes made
you. this mid-atlantic geography
of arundale clay and Gettysburg
shale — of fossilized stone of
star-tooth sauropod — built up
your bones. a bloodline more
ancient than the old line. for
you are of the sisku hanne, a
slow-moving muddy river
swirling with alluvium. you are of the floodplains embracing
a drowned river valley.
you are of the youghiogheny, an
affluent river flowing in a contrary direction. you are carving a waterline
of transgressions, with more twists and turns than an oxbow — and i’m
wading through your brackish waters, swept along the rapids toward a watershed-sink where everything you
touch inevitably meets its end.
and when you open your lips to speak, it’s with a tangled tongue heavy with words that spill like streams from your deepwater delta mouth.
The line “you are carving a waterline of transgressions” is adapted from the poem “exhibits from The American Water Museum” by Natalie Diaz.
Natalye Childress is a writer, an editor, and author of The Aftermath of Forever (Microcosm Publishing). She lives in Berlin, Germany. Find her at natalye.com or @deutschbitte.