Passaic River Melodies


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Cold river twists like a worn rope

each inch pinched tight as if to break

Mulberry trees and hard oaks

clutched over the brink

curled leaves fraying,


Catfish and Carp

caught in the tangles of river’s current

Humped backs flat against the bonded waves

The mocking laugh of free-winged gulls

echoing over them in the bitter air.






Dots of the irretrievable fading at the river side,

like worn LP grooves

their sounds expired, retired, scratched

limbs of trees, old brown leaves,

wilted reeds bent with the oldest songs of all


The first face seen in that hazy dream


school bell sounding in the back of his head

He used to play here, cool water skimmed with stones

and stringy islands of grass, a whole head higher

than he remembered


spray paint lyrics long out of date

Jerry & Jane, June, 57

Mark’s Marauders, March 59

No Mark Twains or Tom Sawyers

No weasily big-eyed poor kids either


just rain




           On Sundays, the lines eke out like webs

            caught deep in the bosom of  the water

            tiny circles mark each touch

            where hooks wait for catfish

            as if they were flies


            Motor boats speed over the deeps

            with furious contempt,

            beer bottle bait bobbing in their wake

            the bottom is banked in tinted glass


            Carp crawl here, tadpoles dally,

            sharp stones reach up to form the tips of islands,

            and fishermen sit hoping snares

            will bring them more than old boots and bottles.






The last call from the river edge speaks of her dying

the mourning geese sit in October rain

with gray suits stained,

waiting as they have always waited

homeless noses dripping, orphaned children

fluttering up and down in protest at her absence


They cry at the empty lawn

where on fair days she spread crusts of bread or broken popcorn

the river land around her house, a sore sight

to city fathers for over forty years


Flocks of ducks and geese and pigeons

pained, abandoned creatures with tarred feathers and broken wings

crawling to the shadow of the bridge,

looking for handouts and mercy,


And she, dying on them as the golf course people

pay for cages to cart them away

and the state forecloses on the land

to reroute the highway.






               Passaic River water spurts black from the tap

               protesting winter

               no cause for alarm, I tell my friends,

               who ponder the stink of dead fish and chemicals

               generations have drawn from this well

               from bucket to pump house

               open sewers long sealed now,

               fat rats died in unholy places, but no humans

               I say as each raises tea cup to lip

               At least, no one to my knowledge.






This stream ran to the river when I was a kid,

an open sewer, raw and vile,

stinking as its water gushed down the narrow gully


It seemed wider then,

framed in maples and willows and oaks,

leaf-filled limbs, weed choked roots on either side


A thread of hemp hung from one large tree,

jack ass kids beating at its roots to grab hold,

swinging from one side to the other as the rope

burned our fingers.

always too stupid to let go


We bitched when we bruised our knees or burst our britches,

blaming the sharp stones and shiftless dirt,

fighting each other for one more chance to keep hold.


When it broke, the others vanished,

leaving me to stare at that frayed piece of rope,

leaving me to curse the tree for letting me go.


When I needed it most, it was gone,

and I sat on one side of that stinking shore,

wishing I could be on the other.





Two rivers flow together

swirling under the Quik Chek dumpster and Fotomat booth,

to the smell of pizza and trash,

old men sit on the concrete sides, feet dangling like children

fishing poles poking the empty air,

the low hum of water bubbling over brutal eddies of stone and junk

the handle of a shopping cart, thick with rotted newspaper and clots of grass

entangling their lines, hiding the catfish they can’t catch,

no one much caring either way.






                         I cross this bridge, even in my dreams,

                         its sagging center groans beneath the bulk

                         of ten ton paper trucks

                         that come and go through the mill’s metal gate

                         bumpers splintering the bridge’s wooden sides

                         leaving wood shavings and paper pulp

                         for the street sweeper to sweep,

                         leaving a thick coat for the river to carry away

                         like messages sent without hope.






                The stone marker and rusted bench

                are all that remains of war and retreat

                the river washing the shore here where Washington crossed,

                a residue of soap scum licking at my heels,

                Post’s Ford measures the low water mark,

                Oak leaves trapped in swirling eddies,

                birds pecking at worms between the rocks,

                each puddle reflects bleeding leaves

                and a road that now runs along the riverside,

                the rumble of trucks and busses banging loose

                the marker’s mortar until dust drips from it like tears,

                and stone by stone, even this memory fades,

                Post’s Ford, Washington’s retreat, washing away.





                         Most evenings this pond is a circle,

                         its round and perfect face neatly dressed

                         in Dusk’s pervading shadow


                         staggered along its narrow shale rim

                         cool gray stones stand like outstretched fingers,

                         waving at the rising moon


                         And every day of every winter the sun falls wearily

                         into this pond’s frosted wordless mouth,

                         dousing its flames in the Pond’s hungry water

                         until morning once more asks the sun to shine


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